Guess Who

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/25/05 02:06:45

"Will Unite All Races in Utter Boredom"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

When putting together the coming attractions trailer for a film, the tendency these days is to take the unquestioned highlights (the biggest explosions, the wildest laughs) and splice them together into a two-minute reel designed solely to lure audiences to the local multiplex. In most cases, these previews present a fairly skewed perspective of the films they are meant to promote but in the case of the new comedy “Guess Who,” I can honestly say that the trailer–a laughless compilation of dumb sight gags and overblown mugging from stars Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher–is a perfect representation of the film itself. If you didn’t find anything in that preview amusing, I guarantee that you will feel the same about the full-length version. If you did find the trailer hilarious, I will suggest that you will probably find the movie itself equally zany while silently weeping for whatever tragedies in life you might have endured that might have caused you to consider this to be a refreshing balm for your tortured soul.

Although you won’t see any mention of it in the credits, the film is a loose remake of the overrated 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, which, you will remember, dealt with the
shock that a seemingly liberal white couple (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) underwent when they discovered that their daughter was engaged to a black man (Sidney Poitier). This time around, the racial roles are reversed; the parents (Bernie Mac and Judith Scott) and daughter (Zoe Saldana) are black while the boyfriend brought home to meet them is the lily-white Kutcher. Inevitably, the mother is fine with it but Mac is horrified at his daughter’s choice of a mate. Of course, he insists that it isn’t because he is white–he claims to not have a racist bone in his body–but it seems that simply isn’t the case.

However, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (the auteur of “Barbershop 2") and writers David Ronn & Jay Scherick and Peter Tolan (collectively responsible for such comedy gems as “Serving Sara,” “National Security” and “Stealing Harvard”) must have decided that to follow the blueprint of the original (which seemed outdated even in 1967) might have resulted in a film too challenging for the mallrats that it is clearly being aimed at, who are unlikely to have ever seen or even heard of that film anyway. Instead, they have decided to take most of their inspiration from a more familiar box-office success, “Meet the Parents.” As a result, Kutcher finds himself getting enmeshed in an ever-growing web of lies and misunderstanding while trying to impress his future father-in-law, who grows more and more furious until he has an inexplicable last-reel change of heart. Example: Mac badgers Kutcher about his apparent lack of participation in sports until he claims that he used to be involved with NASCAR, figuring that no black person pays attention to the sport. Of course, Dad is a racing fanatic (complete with a Jeff Gordon shrine in the basement) and winds up challenging the punk to a go-cart race on a track that appears to have been designed by a consortium of personal-injury lawyers looking for a quick buck.

By taking this approach, the filmmakers subvert the entire point of the original and make this one come off as even more meaningless. In the first film, as director Stanley Kramer pointed out to critics who said that the Poitier character–who was rich, handsome and highly educated–was too idealized to be believed, the boyfriend was depicted as such an utterly flawless individual because if you took away any other possible objection that a man might have to the person trying to marry his daughter, then the only possible obstacle remaining would have to be the racial one. Here, by making the Kutcher character a dopey liar-pants, no matter how well-intentioned his lies may have been, it gives Mac any number of legitimate reasons to reject him, thereby rendering what was supposed to have been the fundamental premise of the film moot.

On the other hand, considering the ham-handed way in which the film handles the racial material that it does bother to include, staying away from it for the most part was probably a good idea. There is the wacky sister who mistakes Kutcher on first sight as an IRS auditor. There is the wacky grandpa who wants to know if all the black men in New York were taken? Worst of all is an unpleasant extended sequence in which Kutcher is forced by Mac to tell a series of racial jokes, which everyone seems to find amusing, until the moment when he tells one that goes too far and puts everyone against him. Forget the fact that there is not one aspect of the scene that is believable for a second and it seems to have been included as an effort to make the film seem more “edgy.” What really sinks it is the fact that when Kutcher tells the joke that sets everyone off, it is so beyond the pale that there is no way that any sane person could utter it without sounding like a clod at best and a monster at worst. The scene comes off so badly that it winds up clouding the rest of the film and when Mac finally accepts him, it seems less like a triumph and more like a sellout on the part of his character.

“Guess Who” is a mirth-free mess that painfully kills 105 minutes of your life with tired jokes (even trying to wring grins out of gags based on metrosexuals and the appearance of “Ebony and Ivory” on the soundtrack) and wasted talent; once again, Mac has failed to find a vehicle worthy of the skills that he brings to television every week and Kutcher, who suggested the possibility of better things in “The Butterfly Effect,” is coasting here on material that is beneath even him. If the film does bring black and white audiences together, it will only be through the common pain felt by anyone enduring a particularly awful film.

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