“You People,” Kenya Barris’ feature directorial debut for Netflix, is laden with good intentions: Collaborating with Jonah Hill as a co-writer and star for this new comedy makes sense when one considers that both men are Los Angeles natives celebrated for their comedic flair and also devotees of hip-hop culture. Add to that the reunion of co-stars Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, both comic giants who came up together on “SNL” in the 1980s, and expectations run high.
But good intentions aren’t enough to float what is essentially a hip-hop–tinged, LA-centric comedic update of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” It’s a concept that has seen a few iterations over the years — most notably 2005’s “Guess Who,” starring Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher, and Zoe Saldana — and “You People” also draws some inspiration from “Meet The Parents,” with faith-based differences providing most of the tension.
Hill stars as Ezra Cohen, a Jewish man whose main gig is working in finance but whose passion is the podcast “The Mo & E-Z Show,” which he hosts with best friend Mo (Sam Jay, “Bust Down”). Ezra’s doting mother Shelley (Louis-Dreyfus) just wants her son to find a wife, a goal presented here in fairly over-the-top and stereotypical fashion, with Shelley willing to play matchmaker.
Unlucky in love, Ezra unexpectedly finds the woman of his dreams when he books an Uber and then jumps into the wrong car, belonging to Amira Mohammed (Lauren London). Bonding over their love of sneakers and other aspects of hip-hop culture later, the two fall in love and get engaged. But Ezra is not the man Amira’s father Akbar (Murphy) wants for her — in fact, he had already picked one for her.
And when these two families — one American Jewish and the other Nation of Islam Muslim — get together, the union is full of friction and highly awkward. With Kanye West and Kyrie Irving dominating news headlines and social media chatter in recent months, “You People” should be right on target. But it is not.
For starters, Hill and London just don’t have chemistry. She, too, is a Los Angeles native, and as the widow of hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle, London’s cultural bona fides are beyond question. But the actress’ parents are a Black woman and a Jewish man, and as Black Twitter has noted, London’s Amira does not look like the daughter of Murphy and fellow Angeleno Nia Long (who plays Akbar’s wife Fatima). It is a criticism “You People” seems to have anticipated because it specifically addresses why Amira’s complexion is so much fairer than her parents’ in the film. Still, one of the main flaws remains the two leads: While Amira and Ezra share so many interests, they just never exude the passion for each other that Ezra has for his podcast.
That lack of chemistry should not have extended to Murphy and Louis-Dreyfus, but their pairing certainly doesn’t deliver on the comic legends’ pedigree. Their jokes don’t land, even when they are in the ring defending and promoting their respective faiths or questioning the other’s. Their missteps with each other’s cultures, especially Shelley’s attempts to show her wokeness, should leave you howling in laughter but instead often turn cringey. There is a surprisingly funny moment from David Duchovny, as Shelley’s husband Arnold, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the film’s distinguished cast, which includes the iconic Rhea Perlman, Deon Cole (an alum of Barris’ “black-ish”) and Mike Epps.
One of the main comedy-killing factors stems from the film’s unfortunate mix of timeliness and outdatedness: Barris and Hill clearly want “You People” to resonate with contemporary audiences through the podcast, streetwear styling and sneakerhead love, not to mention cameos from the likes of Yung Miami and Alani “La La” Anthony. At the same time, many of the jokes — like the ones about fueled by accusations of antisemitism against Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his flock back in the 1990s — are largely obscure to younger audiences.
Hill and Barris’ goals are likely admirable, but their take on interracial relationships in the 21st century, seemingly aimed at young-adult viewers, feels more 20th century, with a cadence that will likely instead land with their parents and grandparents. There are certainly any number of inroads to creating a contemporary comedy about interracial relationships, but “You People” winds up playing as merely outdated and mediocre, with Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus caught in the cobwebs.
“You People” premieres on Netflix Jan. 27.