When we first see Wade Walker (Craig Robinson) in Peeples - which could have been called Meet the Peeples, as in Meet the Parents, if the filmmakers wanted to flirt with intellectual property litigation - he is singing to a gaggle of kids. The song is "Speak It, Don't Leak It," a catchy ditty designed to encourage preschoolers to express their feelings verbally, and leave the bodily functions in the bathroom, where they belong.
Peeples, a likable if not exactly groundbreaking comedy, doesn't get much deeper than that. But Tina Gordon Chism's debut feature does point out the hypocrisy grown-ups are capable of - hiding secrets, hiding their feelings, even hiding valuable property from one another.
Wade, a laid back children's entertainer, lives in New York with his girlfriend, Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington) - of the well-to-do African American clan. Described as "the chocolate Kennedys," the family keeps a large house in the Hamptons, and keep the riffraff at arm's length. But even after a year of cohabitation, Grace hasn't introduced her beau to her parents, Virgil (David Alan Grier), a federal judge, and Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson), a retired disco queen. In fact, Grace hasn't even mentioned Wade.
And, so, when he decides to invite himself to the Long Island compound, Grace has some explaining to do, and Virgil and Daphne get to do some looking down their noses at this lowly interloper. Grace's siblings, the teenage Simon (Tyler James Williams) and the CNN news reporter Gloria (Kali Hawk), have their own issues - issues that come to a head as Peeples shambles its way to a comic conclusion. A Native American sweat lodge, a dose of psychedelics, a family bike ride, and a missing pair of diamond earrings all fit into the mix. Some of these plot contrivances fit better than others.
Robinson, Darryl on NBC's swan-songing The Office and a droll presence in such fine film fare as Knocked Up and Hot Tub Time Machine, eases into his first lead role with aplomb, and there's lots of talent in the ensemble cast - even if Chism's unsurprising script doesn't always work to their favor.
Diahann Carroll and Melvin Van Peebles show up as the grandparental unit (or is that Melvin Van Peeples?), getting to riff a bit, too. And Tyler Perry gets a producer credit - this is his baby, from his production company, and it could very well enjoy some Tyler Perry-size success at the box office.
Worse things could happen.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Steven_Rea. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.inquirer.com/onmovies .