Guess Who (6/10)

by Tony Medley

I wanted to like this movie because I liked the idea, a remake of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) with the races switched. And I have liked Ashton Kutcher the few times I’ve seen him. But the best thing about the film is that it shows blacks in a positive light. So many mainstream Hollywood films stereotype blacks as hoodlums or hip hop jerks or illiterate, jive talking ignoramuses. Here’s a film that reflects blacks in America as upwardly mobile, ambitious, admirable, educated people who speak with proper grammar, which is probably a much more accurate picture than what we normally get. I really wanted to like this.

While there are some good moments in this, some where I actually laughed, there aren’t enough of them. And like most modern movies, this one is just too long, at 1:45. While that’s only 7 minutes longer than the original, the original did have screen legends Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier, and was directed by Stanley Kramer. “Guess Who” has Kutcher and Bernie Mac, and is directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan, who did “Barbershop 2” one of the worst films I saw last year. Brevity would have been a virtue.

What this film lacks, in addition to a real funny script (David Ronn & Jay Scherick and Peter Tolan, which are too many names), is pace. It just drags along. A comedy has to have a laugh a minute, like “Freaky Friday” (2003) and “Meet the Fockers” (2004). In this one the laughs are few and far between.

Percy Jones (Mac) is an upper middle class father of two daughters who anticipates that his beloved daughter Theresa (a gorgeous Zoë Saldaña) will marry a cross between Denzell Washington, Colin Powell, and Tiger Woods. What he gets is Simon Green (Kutcher), an out of work white guy who has a problem telling the truth. Percy, a conscientious bank loan officer, is not happy and does not hide it.

Unfortunately, unlike the brilliant original, it totally avoids logic. When Theresa brings Simon home to meet her folks, they are originally assigned to the same bedroom. But shortly thereafter Percy walks in on them and finds them in a compromising position. So Percy hits the roof and banishes Simon from her room. Let’s see, Percy knew that Simon and Theresa were going to share her bedroom. Then he walks in on them and finds them doing things that men and women do when they are sharing a bedroom and he gets upset? What was he expecting? This “joke” is the mainstay for the rest of the movie, which might explain why it basically falls flat.

While I was disappointed, it could have been because my expectations were high. Regardless, this has some funny parts. The acting is uniformly good, even if the pace is faltering, the directing marred, and the script ludicrous. I squirmed a lot and looked at my watch a lot.

March 16, 2005