Film ó Guess Who (PG-13)

Guess Who (PG-13)

By Amy Diaz

Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac wacky up the 1967 classic Guess Whoís Coming to Dinner in the sitcom-tastic remake Guess Who.

Because, honestly, interracial marriage is not the shock-and-awe premise it was some 40 years ago. So youíve got to add something, like a funny dog or some poop humor or, in the case of Guess Who, a riff on a strict father who comically attempts to scare his potential son-in-law. And, sure, maybe you canít see Spencer Tracy challenging Sidney Poitier to a race in those tiny bumper-car-like NASCAR replicas but then again we wouldnít need a movie to convince us that itís OK for Beyonce to date, say, Ben Affleck. (At least, in terms of race; in terms of celebrity, itís probably not a good idea for Affleck to hook up with another MTV hottie who is a bigger star than he is.)

Simon Green (Kutcher) is an up-and-coming stockbroker who, right before his big weekend with his fiance Theresa (Zoe Saldana), abruptly quits his job. He fails to tell Theresa this (welcome to the first act, thereís the gun) because he is about to meet her family, including her scary father Percy Jones (Bernie Mac). In the car on the way to their house he finds out that Theresa has told her family all about him, except for the little fact that heís white. They park in front of her familyís upper-middle-class home and Percy and mom Marilyn (Judith Scott) apprehensively plaster on a fake welcoming smile when they realize who their daughter has brought home for the weekend. (Theresaís little sister later thanks her older sibling saying that, no matter how bad she messes up itís her big sister who will always be remembered as the one who brought home a white boy.) 

Percy Jones (always referred to, Veronica Mars-style, by his full name) distrusts Simon on two levels: first because heís a boy who is dating and (though Percy clearly tries hard not to admit it) sleeping with his daughter and second because Percy Jones, a loan officer with access to credit reports, has found out about Simonís recent joblessness. Thus starts a parry-and-thrust of small fibs and exaggerations as Simon attempts to impress and win over Percy.

The original Guess Whoís Coming to Dinner was a slow, thoughtful, sweet movie about race, sure, but also about family and marriage and what it means to parents when their kids grow up. The remake is not slow, thoughtful or particularly sweet. And while it is still about family and marriage and parents watching their children become grown-ups, it is about these things in a very tidy, solution-oriented fashion. Guess Whoís Coming to Dinner played very much like a well-made After-school special for adults whereas Guess Who plays like a pilot to a new show on  ABCís TGIF line-up.

There are moments of intelligence in the movieís story that show off hints of a better movie still waiting to be made. Kutcherís character is the son of a single mom and, while heís extremely intimidated by Mac, heís also impressed by him for sticking it out, both with his wife and with his kids. This lends some genuine venerability to the third-act admissions by Simon and Zoe that they are scared out of their minds. Race issues add another layer of fear to the already scary prospect of marriage (and any two people who are getting married or have recently been married and arenít scared out of their minds probably havenít given their situation enough thought).

A scene (by far the movieís most interesting) where Simon is goaded into telling (relatively mild) racist jokes at dinner with Theresaís family also hints at a more controversial place that the movie seems unwilling to go. There are differences in the cultures of all families, differences that are augmented when families are from difference race, class, religious or ethnic backgrounds. To truly examine these differences, a movie would have to be raw, daring, messy and uncomfortable in a way that only this one scene in the movie is really willing to be.

Guess Who has going for it the genuinely impressive comic abilities of Kutcher and Mac and the genuine affability of Saldana (making us believe that Kutcher would be willing to suffer Macís familial tortures in the first place). It also has an interesting, though increasingly dated, premise that, if better developed could have made for some truly smart comedy. There is, however, a large part of me that hopes that by the time someone considers to revisit this premise again it will seem far too antiquated to flesh out.  

- Amy Diaz

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