directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan
starring Bernic Mac, Ashton Kutcher, Zoe Saldana
Just because you can make a hip, slick remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? doesn’t mean that you should. Yet again Hollywood obviously hasn’t learned that it’s just bad news to tamper with a classic, especially one that continues to this day to provoke conversation and resonate with racial clarity.
This didn’t stop studio execs from green lighting Kevin Rodney Scott’s remake of the film into the comedy Guess Who, starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher plays Simon Green, a white, talented business executive on the move. He’s confident, cocky and basically a good guy working his way up the corporate ladder. As the film opens, he has a great job, and a terrific girlfriend, Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana). He’s a man on top of the world until things at work turn sour in a hurry on the eve of spending a weekend with Theresa’s family in New Jersey.
Enter Bernie Mac as Theresa’s uptight and protective father, Percy Jones. It’s a comedic role that is an ideal fit for Mac as he walks the fine line between playing a cantankerous and guarded parent and a wisecracking smart aleck. Percy is a good man whose fatal flaw is his resilience to change. From the beginning Percy is les than thrilled to see his daughter bringing home a young man, much less a white one. This sets a battle of wills in motion, reminiscent of recent films like Meet The Parents.
Percy confronts Simon at every turn about his race, his work, his upbringing and most importantly, his intentions for his daughter. His paranoid machinations eventually lead to a series of hilarious macho misadventures, including sharing a fold out bed and participating in a madcap go-cart race. Initially Simon can’t do anything right. No matter how hard he tries to bond with Percy, everything goes wrong. Simon absorbs Percy’s battery of constant ribbing, jokes and constant razzing. However when Percy digs too far into Simon’s life he puts his foot down and confronts him, forcing the film’s final, fateful turn of events.
If the best way to defeat racism and intolerance is via comedy, then Bernie Mac has won the war. Mac steals the film with his glib one-liners, hilarious facial expressions and blustery curmudgeonry. He owns every scene that he’s in and manages to make the audience feel sympathetic towards him. He also brings a dynamic range of emotional depth to the character that one doesn’t expect to see in a comedy. Bernie Mac’s representing and returning to his comedic roots is the most refreshing thing about Guess Who.
Although Ashton Kutcher is not known for his acting chops, he does work well as the straight man to the over-the-top antics of Bernie Mac. Kutcher’s performance works because his simple Simon is at times equally befuddled, confrontational and lost in his surroundings. He perfectly plays into all the right the Caucasian stereotypes and helps ignite most of the film’s dramatic moments.
Guess Who is by no means the funniest movie of the year. However, its black humor, off-color jokes and constant pushing of buttons effectively jab racism in our society. The film relies heavily on a ‘fish out of water’ concept to drive its comedic elements and drive home the themes of family and equality. By turning the tables on the white guy and making him that fish, Sullivan (who also directed Barbershop 2) in effect uses our preconceptions against us to heighten the tension and comedy within the film.
Guess Who is a tough film to categorize because it takes on so many issues about how people interact in our society. It’s a film that defies stereotypes, breaks boundaries and laughs at the one issue that rips apart the fabric of American life, racism. It’s also a hilarious film about a guy trying to impress the dad of the woman he loves and failing miserably. Despite some pacing issues and corny dialogue, Guess Who manages to deliver enough laughs to ensure its place as the first sure-fire box office comedy of the season.
Guess Who: www.sonypictures.com/movies/guesswho