(USA TODAY) -- From the outside looking in, the Peeples are a tightly knit and intimidating clan.
To working-class guy Wade Walker, the affluent African-American family members are "the chocolate Kennedys," with a sprawling Sag Harbor vacation manse, preppy pastimes and eccentric familial superstitions.
Their worlds clash in the likable, if formulaic, fish-out-of-water comedy Peeples (* * ½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide).
The tale focuses on the upper-crust family's annual reunion for "Moby Dick Day," a Sag Harbor holiday that celebrates the town's connection to Herman Melville's literary classic. The Peeples steadfastly follow the dictates and competitive spirit of their patriarch, Virgil (David Alan Grier), a distinguished federal court jurist who insists on being addressed by outsiders as "Judge."
Grier plays the part of the pompous patrician with superb finesse and dry wit, easily the movie's highlight.
Grace (Kerry Washington) is a daughter of Judge Peeples and the apple of his ever-watchful eye. She is also the high-powered attorney girlfriend of besotted Wade (Craig Robinson of TV's The Office). A sweet-natured, regular guy who lacks an impressive family lineage, Wade entertains young schoolchildren with musical ditties and hopes to get a doctorate in child psychology. How these two got together is never exactly stated, but Grace is drawn to Wade's accepting nature. The two have dated for over a year and share a Manhattan apartment.
When Grace goes off to spend a weekend with her parents, sister and brother in Sag Harbor, Wade pays a surprise visit. With a diamond ring in his pocket, he is determined to propose to Grace.
But there's a hitch: Grace has forgotten to tell her parents anything about Wade. She loves him, but there's a snobbish fear factor about her father's reaction. Wade stumbles and makes all the wrong moves, à la Meet the Parents.
Robinson is funny and appealing in the role, and he has evident chemistry with the radiant Washington.
S. Epatha Merkerson plays Daphne Peeples, Grace's warmhearted mother and Virgil's loving wife. Wade and Daphne hit it off, but he immediately rubs the judge the wrong way.
The ensemble cast is affable and has sharp comic timing. It's a particular treat to see Diahann Carroll and Melvin Van Peebles on screen again as the less-uptight parents of Virgil.
In the course of the family weekend, secrets are revealed, lies are exposed, and Wade is continually misunderstood. When he finally faces up to the overbearing judge and challenges his controlling ways, Wade stumbles even more drastically.
One of the funnier scenes involves Wade ingesting some psilocybin mushrooms and freaking out during the judge's public Melville reading. It's slapstick but still amusingly outlandish, thanks to the actors' comic talents.
While billed as Tyler Perry Presents The Peeples, the film is better than most of the works directed by Perry. Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism, it avoids Perry's sappy sermonizing, as well as his over-the-top characters, and emerges as a predictable domestic comedy with some inspired comic touches.