Ben Stiller was on the rise after breaking mainstream ground in There's Something About Mary. Robert De Niro was at the peak of his shift from Scorsese dramas to screwball comedies. The script was approachable and amicable, but not without its edge. Meet the Parents was prime crowd-pleasing comedy. Since the film's release in 2000, we've seen a number of other attempts at the in-law-centric comedy of errors, ones destined from conception to live in the shadow of Jay Roach's modern classic. The latest is the Tyler Perry production Peeples, a film that borrows more than just the basic "guy meeting his fiancée-to-be's family" formula from the Stiller/De Niro comedy. In fact, upon leaving a screening of the film on Tuesday night, I heard a fellow viewer remark that Peeples was "Meet The Fockers, but with music." Understandable, but not entirely fair.
Peeples sees the likable Wade Walker (Craig Robinson), an aspiring child psychologist who writes and performs songs to teach kids about expressing themselves verbally, struggling to impress his uptight girlfriend Grace's (Kerry Washington) rigid and tyrannical father, Judge Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier) upon meeting him and the family for the first time during a weekend getaway to their summer home in Sag Harbor, Long Island. Yes, at times, the new movie seems like it cited the script of Parents with a checklist in hand: both films take place in prosperous Long Island, pit a sensitive working class dreamer against the hard-nosed professional patriarch, and involve the gradual surfacing of family secrets. For a while, there, it seems as though the movie is setting up for a rip-off of the too-well-known-to-be-reproduced Meet the Parents. But a few leagues into Wade's increasingly ill-fated vacation with the Peeples clan, the movie actually begins to one-up its predecessor.
With performers like Stiller and, to a greater degree, De Niro, Parents felt comfortable using its supporting cast as set dressing. There wasn't much for anyone else to do in the film: Teri Polo, Stiller's romantic interest, was flat and unsubstantial. Blythe Danner had some words of reason, but hardly anything to contribute to the comedy. Even De Niro's stoner son (Jon Abrahams) didn't have anything in the vein of a story. Stiller didn't meet the parents, much less the family. He met the dad. But here, Peeples is champion. Chism invests a little something in each member of her cinematic family: father Virgil is an overbearing, hypermasculine A-type (an identity that clearly stems from his relationship with his own father, whom we meet briefly). Grace has, as a result of her rearing, and her dad's well-documented favoritism, become a somewhat self-destructive, victory-affixed obsessive-compulsive, opting desperately to hide her imperfections from everyone in her life.
And Grace isn't the only Peeple to get an industrial treatment: her sister is, in the same vein, trying to hide her homosexuality from her abrasive father. Her brother is a kleptomaniac, and a contentious scientific genius with low self-esteem. Her mother is a recovering addict and a former music artist whose career and glory were overshadowed by her husband. The characters in Peeples are given full plates. And as Wade gets to know them through the film, he finds himself connecting with each of their individual stories.
Unfortunately, Peeples throws the lot of this out the window in the third act. In a 90-minute romantic comedy, there's only so much room for a full-fledged supporting cast, at least as far as the film is concerned. Each of these characters' conflicts, all far more engaging than that of Wade and Grace, are discarded when it comes time for the big, sweet ending. Even Grace's proclivity for dishonesty and judgment, not to mention her subtle Elektra Complex, are ignored in the end: the movie doesn't give its superior material a fair chance to shine, opting instead for your typical genre conclusion.
Throughout the movie, the gags are standard and predictable, with the performances of Robinson and Malcolm Barrett (playing Wade's goofy brother Chris) offering a few laughs here and there. The real meat of the movie is its devotion to the characters. Unfortunately, that devotion fades away instantly when the time comes from a sweeping romantic ending and dynamic musical number. But really, in a genre where these are the norm, couldn't we have spent a little more time solving the Peeples' problems?
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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July 1 marks the halfway point of the movie year, and there is a clear winner among the major Hollywood studios. With the top 3 grossing movies of 2008, Paramount is riding high with both Marvel’s Iron Man and Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull topping $300M and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda at $181M now and a cinch for $200M+. The Melrose gang will be the first studio in history with back-to-back-to-back $200M+ grossing movies.
With an estimated $1.054 billion in domestic box office, it will be impossible for anyone to catch Paramount in the market share race for 2008, especially when the studio has 2 sure bets for $100M+ due in the next 6 months. First comes the much buzzed-about DreamWorks comedy Tropic Thunder in August, featuring another standout Robert Downey Jr. performance and a scene-stealing turn by Tom Cruise. Then comes Madagascar 2, also from DreamWorks, in November, which I am hearing very positive reports about.
Paramount is likely to exceed the $1.49 billion in domestic box office it generated last year, and they have an outside shot at surpassing the all-time record $1.71 billion generated by Sony in 2006. To do it, the studio would need Madagascar 2 to be huge and to get help from DreamWorks’ DJ Caruso/Shia LaBeouf re-teaming for Eagle Eye in September, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in December and perhaps Joe Wright’s follow-up to Atonement, The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. (again), Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener, which is expected sometime this fall with plenty of Oscar buzz.
The battle is on for the year’s #2 spot, which Fox now holds with almost $650M domestic. Horton Hears a Who ($154M domestic) has led the way for Fox, and the rest of the studio’s year has been comprised of good solid hits like 27 Dresses, starring Katherine Heigl ($76.8M), Doug Liman’s Jumper ($80.15M) and the Ashton Kutcher-Cameron Diaz vehicle What Happens in Vegas ($79M). The always smartly run Fox even managed to wring about $60M out of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening so far.
Meet Dave, starring Eddie Murphy, is Fox’s next release with director Brian Robbins trying to recapture the box office glory of Norbit ($95.6M domestic). If Murphy scores, Fox will have a leg-up on the competition for the year-end 2nd-best market share, although they follow with the animated Space Chimps on July 18 and the long-awaited X-Files sequel on July 25, both of which are viewed as less-than-sure things. The studio’s late year breakout hit candidates include Bill Murray and Tim Robbins in the futuristic City of Ember in October, Baz Luhrman’s highly anticipated Australia at Thanksgiving, a remake of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (featuring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu) in December and Marley & Me, based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir and starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, at Christmas.
The surest blockbuster in the second half of 2008 is, without question, The Dark Knight. With $200M all-but-assured for the Christopher Nolan sequel and Get Smart a safe bet to exceed $100M, Warner Bros will have three $100M grossing films (Sex and the City is the 3rd) and one near-miss with Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C., which topped out at $95M domestic. The studio is currently #3 in market share with an estimated $505M in U.S. theaters.
When you consider that Warner Bros still has Star Wars: The Clone Wars due in August, the re-teaming of Diane Lane and Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe in September, Ridley Scott’s House of Lies, based on the excellent David Ignatius CIA thriller Body of Lies and starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, in October, and the next Harry Potter installment set for Thanksgiving, Warner Bros is probably the betting favorite to be 2008’s #2 studio.
With $472M banked so far in 2008, you cannot count Sony out of the battle for 2nd place. Although Hancock will be the studio’s first $100M+ hit of 2008, it certainly will not be their last. The year has featured 3 good, solid box office successes with You Don't Mess with the Zohan ($91.67M so far), 21 ($81.15M) and Vantage Point ($72.26M), and the Will Smith superhero film, which opened last night, is a can’t-miss.
Four major blockbusters loom for Sony starting with Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, on July 25, followed by Judd Apatow’s The Pineapple Express, which will compete with Tropic Thunder for the biggest late-summer hit. (James Franco, who plays a hilarious stoner, could be one of the breakout stars of the year.) The studio will finish the year with the newest James Bond film Quantum of Solace and Will Smith in the Oscar-friendly-but-still-commercial 7 Pounds.
Universal is currently #6 with $447M domestic, but the year is heating up for them. Although the Marvel-financed and -produced Incredible Hulk appears to have stalled out and will finish its domestic run with less than Ang Lee’s version 5 years ago, it still should reach about $130M. Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, is just beginning what should be a healthy run well above $100M. The studio follows next Friday with Hellboy II, a Guillermo Del Toro sequel to his wildly original 2004 movie Hellboy. The franchise-starter generated a domestic gross of only $59.62M, but the movie found new fans on DVD and cable and Del Toro had a few more dollars to play with this time. If Universal connects with Hellboy II, a streak of five $100M+ grossing films is not out of the question because both Mamma Mia! and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are good bets to pass that magical threshold.
The end of the year for Universal features a few Oscar contenders, including Flash of Genius and Frost/Nixon, an important prestige film with both Oscar pedigree and some box office upside, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, and the animated Tale of Despereaux.
Disney's biggest 2008 hit to-date is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with an underwhelming $138M, but Wall-E, after a $60M+ opening weekend, is a game-changer with $250M domestic not out of the question. Disney has generated a total of $475M domestic so far, but its only remaining titles that show blockbuster potential are High School Musical 3 in October, the animated Bolt in November and Adam Sandler's Christmas comedy Bedtime Stories. Because of its strictly limited number of releases, Disney is unlikely to compete for the #2 market share in '08.
Among the 5 studios above, I consider Warner Bros to be the favorite to finish the year with the 2nd-best market share with odds of 5/2. Sony is the next best bet at 7/2 followed by Fox at 6/1, Universal a live underdog at 8/1 and Disney 15/1.
Reuters reports actor/comedian Paul Reubens, best known as the goofy children's show host Pee-wee Herman, pleaded innocent Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of possessing child pornography. The charge stems from a November 2001 search of the actor's house, where authorities "uncovered materials that we believe depict minors engaged in sexual activity," the Los Angeles City Attorney's office told Reuters. Reubens, however, released a statement saying the charge was "untrue and without merit." According to Reubens' lawyer, what the police found were a handful of images from "an extensive collection of vintage physique art photography." The 50-year-old actor was not present at the arraignment. A pre-trial hearing is set for Jan. 3.
The drug possession charge against The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin was dismissed Wednesday after the writer/producer completed his drug rehabilitation. Sorkin was arrested in April 2001 at the Burbank Airport in Los Angeles for possession of cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. The charges were dropped on the recommendation of Sorkin's probation officials.
Actor Adam Rich, who starred as cute little Nicholas on the 1970s show Eight Is Enough, was arrested Wednesday for suspicion of driving under the influence. The 34-year-old actor drove his car into a closed highway lane and nearly struck a California Highway Patrol car, AP reports.
A judge finalized The Sopranos star James Gandolfini's divorce Wednesday after he and his wife, Marcella, settled their disputes without a trial. The couple was married for three years and has a 3-year-old son.
Oprah Winfrey narrowly escaped harm Tuesday when a tent collapsed during a function she was attending at a secondary school in South Africa, injuring 10 people including two children, Variety reports. For the last month the talk show host has been playing Santa to South African children as part of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation's Christmas Kindness Project.
Variety reports Igby Goes Down star Amanda Peet will join Jack Nicholson, Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton in an as-year-untitled comedy for writer/director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want). The story concerns an older man who suffers a heart attack at the house of his young girlfriend's mother. Both he and his young doctor fall for the older woman.
Danny Leiner, the director of Dude, Where's My Car? (a somewhat surprising hit in 2001) is in negotiations to direct Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. According to Variety, the story focuses on two stoner roommates in their 20s--one a Korean investment banker, the other an Indian medical resident--who decide to journey to a faraway White Castle burger stand for their famous 39 cent hamburgers. Of course, they find the road is paved with many obstacles. We can only imagine.
Nick Cannon, hot off his performance in Drumline, is set to star and executive produce The Underclassman for Miramax. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is a cross between Beverly Hills Cop and Never Been Kissed. It is based on Cannon's idea about a young-looking 24-year-old detective sent to do an undercover assignment at a private school where he discovers a ring of car thieves.
Pink's drummer William Johnson was arrested Sunday when a routine passport check turned up a warrant for his arrest for grand larceny in New York, AP reports. Despite his arrest, Pink finished her six-month world tour in Honolulu, Hawaii Wednesday, with Johnson out on $50,000 bail.
Hip-hop artist Nelly's No. 1 hit "Hot in Herre" has been dubbed the best driving song in a Yahoo! poll, getting 20 percent of nearly 4,200 votes. Runners-up were Eminem's "Without Me" with 19 percent and Sheryl Crow's "Soak up the Sun" with 10 percent.