On paper, "Tyler Perry Presents Peeples" should have done decent business this weekend. Even though he didn't write or direct it, the meet-the-parents comedy had Perry's name on it as producer and promoter. It features two popular TV stars, Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington, in the leads. It's a movie that caters to older women and comedy fans at a time of year (summer superhero season) when both are underserved. It opened on Mother's Day weekend, a good time to catch the family business that Perry targets so effectively. Most of all, as a movie with an all-African-American cast, it seemed like smart counterprogramming to "The Great Gatsby," a movie about white people throwing parties.

Perry movies typically open at around $20 million. Pundits predicted "Peeples" would earn at least half that. Instead, it debuted in fourth place, with a meager $4.9 million in estimated sales. It's Perry's weakest opening ever (eclipsing "Daddy's Little Girls," which debuted with $11.2 million in 2007), and it looks like it'll be his first real flop.

What went wrong? Here are a few possibilities:

Perry's name alone isn't enough. Writer/director Tina Gordon Chism is no slouch; her previous screenplays include "ATL" and "Drumline," so she clearly knows how to write effectively for the same viewers as Perry's films (African-American, middle-class). Still, having "Tyler Perry Presents..." above the title isn't the same as having "Tyler Perry's...." Ticketbuyers noticed the difference.

No Madea. Perry's movies in which he appears in drag as the gun-toting grandma do better at the box office than those without the popular character.

Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington aren't box office draws. Robinson ("The Office") and Washington ("Scandal") are talented actors from hit TV shows, but neither has ever carried a movie on the strength of his or her own name. "Peeples" may have been too tame for those who saw Robinson in such raunchy screen comedies as "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and "Hot Tub Time Machine." Washington's biggest film to date may be "Django Unchained," but "Django" fans may have been more likely to spend this weekend seeing Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Great Gatsby."

The movie sat on the shelf for two years. That alone doesn't mean much, but it suggests a lack of confidence on the part of distributor Lionsgate, which, in a worst-case-scenario, might have simply dumped the movie as unceremoniously as possible on a weekend when few would notice. The studio gave the movie better promotion than that (it does, after all, have to keep Perry happy, since he's its most reliable hitmaker), but not by much. Certainly, critics, and sometimes audiences, can smell the desperation behind a picture that's been allowed to grow musty in distribution limbo.

Word-of-mouth was weak. Not that critics' opinions mattered much, as Lionsgate didn't even screen the movie for critics. (Though that's also usually a sign that a movie isn't any good.) Perry's movies typically rely more on audience word-of-mouth than professional reviews anyway. But "Peeples" didn't do well even by that standard. Its CinemaScore grade was just a B-, indicating lackluster word-of-mouth. Viewers were not recommending "Peeples" to their friends and relatives.

Mother's Day isn't Easter. Perry often capitalizes on holiday weekends to grab family audiences. It's been just a few weeks since "Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" opened on Easter weekend, raking in $21.6 million toward a total to date of $51.7 million. (In fact, it was still on the chart this weekend, at No. 15, meaning Perry's competing against himself.) Maybe Easter is a time when families decide to go to the movies together after church. Mother's Day? Apparently, not so much.

There was still plenty of competition for the movie's target audiences. "Gatsby" turned out to be a surprisingly strong draw for older women who might otherwise have been receptive to the "Peeples" Mother's Day strategy. With its Jay-Z-led hip-hop soundtrack, "Gatsby" may also have been a strong draw for younger African-American audiences. "Peeples" was also competing for older African-American viewers against "42," the Jackie Robinson biopic, still a strong draw after five weeks. (It earned $4.7 million, just $200,000 less than "Peeples.") And then there was "Iron Man 3," the weekend's top movie, which pulled in an estimated $72.5 million. It drew such a huge general audience that no other movie, save the well-promoted "Gatsby," could compete.

So maybe Perry can chalk it up to bad timing. Certainly, one flop isn't going to stall his career. No doubt his next release, "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" (due on Dec. 13), will press all the right buttons and avoid all the mistakes of "Peeples."
CATEGORIES Movies