The original Guess Who's Coming to Dinner came out in 1967 starred Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracey, and was a highly charged (and timely) film about interracial relationships. While these relationships still (unfortunately) carry some stigma, the acceptance is much better than nearly forty years ago. But forget about all of that. Guess Who is very loosely based on the original, and any comparison of the two is bound to make this version stink. It has very little to say about racial issues, and goes for broad comedy instead of drama. In this fashion, it is more of a Meet the Parents-type film with blacks and whites substituting for Christians and Jews. The races are flipped, as the white Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher, The Butterfly Effect, Cheaper by the Dozen) goes home with his black fiancee Teresa Jones (Zoe Saldana, The Terminal, Pirates of the Caribbean) to meet her family. In particular, Simon needs to deal with Teresa's father Percy (Bernie Mac, Ocean's Twelve, Mr. 3000).
Mac is a gifted comedian, who unfortunately got the short end of the stick in Ocean's Twelve. He works best in Ben Stiller-like roles where he has to suffer through a number of setbacks and slowly gets madder and madder. The difference is that when he explodes, it tends to be on the funny side of fury, rather than the idiotic. Kutcher's record is spottier, but he fits well as Simon. It doesn't require much of him, and has him acting like a doofus. They actually have some very nice chemistry together, and this is what makes Guess Who marginally fun and enjoyable. Teresa did not tell Percy that Simon is white. Percy works in a bank, and had somebody run a credit check on Simon. All he knows is that Simon works for JP Oliver, a prestigious investment bank, and that he has great credit. This is a nice change from the guys that Teresa typically dates. Simon only knows that Percy can get very angry.
So when the two meet, Percy instantly dislikes Simon. He is a bit uncomfortably that he is white, but the larger issue is that he feels Simon is trying to hide something. And he is. He recently quit his job, but is keeping this information from Teresa as not to spoil the weekend. He wants to impress Percy, so he becomes extremely nervous and begins to lie. But Percy seems to catch him in all his lies, making him distrust Simon all the more. Percy is basically an overprotective father. He wants what's best for his daughter, and he doesn't realize that Simon wants the same thing. Guess Who works because of the entire Percy/Simon dynamic, and Simon's inability to make himself appear normal. It's the same thing that made Ben Stiller such a sympathetic character in Meet the Parents.
So where are the racial issues in Peter Tolan (Analyze That, Stealing Harvard) and David Ronn and Jay Scherick's (National Security, I-Spy) screenplay? When it does appear, they rely on broad stereotyping that is so far out there it is not offensive. This is where they fall short. If they wanted to make Guess Who better, they would have upped the racial tension and done away with more of the moronic comedy. But that would be too ambitious. Why do something with depth when cheap laughs suffice? That's why director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2, How Stella Got Her Groove Back) has scenes of Percy in bed with Simon (to make sure there's no hanky panky with Teresa), a lame go-kart race, and a scene where Simon teaches Percy to dance. There's a great dinner scene where Percy dares Simon to tell racially charged humor. It's very edgy, and brings a great level of tension of the film. But apparently that's a different movie, so audiences will have to settle with this.
|Haro Rates It: Not Bad.|
|1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor.|
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