If not for Eddie Murphy, this Netflix meet-the-parents rom com wouldn’t have much com – Sun Sentinel


Already there’s a huge range of reactions to “You People,” debuting on Netflix Jan. 27 after a week in a few theaters for appearance’s sake. Hilarious? Riotous? Hackneyed? Annoying? Are comic sensibilities really so various that nobody can agree whether the laughs and the heart are there with this thing, or not?

Well, no. We can’t agree. Comedy, like everything else in movies, has a tendency to divide, not unite. Surely most of us know the feeling of being the one not laughing in a laughing crowd, the Buster Keaton surrounded by hyenas.

Already raved up in early reviews, “You People” offers a few choice bits and throwaway lines served up by a first-rate cast — especially Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus — way, way out ahead of their material. For millions of eyeballs, they’ll be enough.

“Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris directed and cowrote the Los Angeles-set “You People.” His co-writer, Jonah Hill, stars as Ezra, a 35-year-old stockbroker tired of his job and eager to develop his side hustle — a brash podcast on Black culture, which he hosts with his friend Mo (Sam Jay). She calls Ezra “my favorite Jew with nuthin’ to do”; he’s so devoted to their mutual love for the podcast’s subject, he’s like the brother Quentin Tarantino never had.

The topic their podcast hits on in every episode, inevitably, is simple: Can Black and white people in America today ever truly know each other? When lonely Ezra meets aspiring costume designer Amira (Lauren London), the question shifts from macro to micro. She’s the daughter of Muslim parents Akbar (Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long), who do not love the idea of their only girl getting serious with a white man.

Ezra’s parents, meantime, are more receptive but also more embarrassing, especially Shelley (Louis-Dreyfus), married to podiatrist Arnold (David Duchovny, very much sidelined and near-silent in the final cut). In the first big fat awkward meetup with her future in-laws, Shelley broadcasts her sympathy with and understanding of the Black experience in ways that scream “Wake up! I’m woke!” “You know the national anthem?” she asks, as she’s being pushed out of the living room by her aghast son. “I think everybody should kneel!”

“You People” contrives obstacle after obstacle for Ezra and Amira, with the expected arrival of serious relational conflict around the two-thirds point. A rom com’s predictability rarely dents a streaming audience’s enjoyment of anything. Predictable is comfortable. Still, without Murphy’s deadpan, steely reactions to the latest affront, “You People” would be all strain and little gain.

Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy in a scene from "You People."

On the page and as acted, Hill settles for familiar readings of lines that should be fresher. Ezra’s a chronic liar, largely out of desperation to please or get along with his perpetually side-eyeing in-laws. Some of the bits work, usually in dubious taste; one deals with Ezra concocting a story about the modest engagement ring he buys for Amira being an heirloom from his grandmother, “from the Holocaust.”

The movie gives us dueling bachelor/ette parties in Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and eventually Akbar sees past his initial harsh judgment of Ezra. The crises come and go, but my heart periodically sank watching “You People” squander its on-screen pros. In an early Yom Kippur sequence, set at LA’s Skirball Cultural Center, you get Hal Linden, Elliott Gould and Richard Benjamin in cameos, only to be saddled with a relay joke about Ezra’s genitals.

I’m spoiling nothing by saying the central couple just might stay coupled in the end. “Mr. and Mrs. Mohammed Cohen,” Murphy says, smiling, approvingly, to Louis-Dreyfus, his partner in movie-saving. “Ain’t that a bitch?” A century ago, the massive Broadway hit “Abie’s Irish Rose” satisfied audiences with a tale of an Irish lass, a Jewish boy and their meddling, tradition-minded parents. With a smooth overlay of LA sights and sounds, and a side of blueprints stolen from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Meet the Fockers,” “You People” ends up a lot less insightfully funny than “Black-ish.”

At heart it’s a disappointing 21st century answer to “Abie’s Irish Rose.”

People’ — 2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for drug content, some sexual material and language throughout)

Running time: 1:57

How to watch: Netflix premiere Jan. 27.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.


Twitter @phillipstribune

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