The remaking of a classic, albeit schmaltzy, film about interracial relationships that originally starred Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier into a goofball comedy starring Bernie Mac and that guy from “Punk’d” sounds, on the surface, like a disaster of Biblical proportions. It probably also says something about the state of race relations in America today, though what that is I’m not entirely sure.
So imagine my surprise that “Guess Who,” the sorta-kinda remake of the Stanley Kramer original, is actually a fairly pleasant little diversion. It has its share of eye-rolling moments, but at its heart there’s a decent story, and it’s to director Kevin Sullivan’s credit that he doesn’t rub our faces in the “message” or allow the film to sink into mawkishness.
Ashton Kutcher plays Simon Green, a hotshot New York stockbroker who’s just inexplicably quit his job (that we don’t find out the reason for his leaving until the end of the film is somewhat annoying). Normally, he’d tell his girlfriend Theresa (Zoë Saldana) about such things, but this is the weekend they’re heading to Jersey to meet her parents, and Theresa’s dad Percy (Mac) is big on the whole employment thing. Theresa has also conveniently neglected to tell mom and dad that Simon is white, leading to – as you can imagine – numerous incidents where cultures clash and people let their latent prejudices surface.
Don’t expect to be treated to a thoughtful examination of the subject, however. “Guess Who” still offers enough of Bernie Mac’s trademark bug-eyed slow burn and Kutcher’s largely uninspired physical humor (the go-cart race between the two is a low point). There are times, however, when the characters in the film are able to rise above their archetypes and offers something that almost feels genuine. When you get right down to it, Simon loves Theresa, while her dad just wants what’s best for her. And if we have to sit through jokes about premature ejaculation and metrosexuals, so be it. I guess I’m a “glass is half-full” kind of movie reviewer.
What doesn’t wash with me is the sitcom-like way the movie portrays the male principals as clueless boobs. If there isn’t a coherent message on race in “Guess Who,” it’s because the writers are too busy making sure Kutcher and Mac look equally pig-headed. We already have plenty of that kind of crap in things like “King of Queens” and “According to Jim,” thanks.
I also feel kind of sorry for Kutcher. His forays into drama (“The Butterfly Effect”) haven’t done too well, and while he doesn’t really have the chops to be a slapstick comedian like Jerry Lewis or Peter Sellers, he holds his own here when he keeps it toned down. The downside of this is that roles like Simon Green are likely to be the only ones he’s going to get, especially after “Guess Who” makes a gazillion dollars.
On the other hand, Kutcher probably made more money off this role than I’m going to see in my whole life. In that light, I don’t feel sorry for the bastard at all.
At any rate, “Guess Who” is a respectable enough comedy. It won’t alter your perception of cinema as we know it, but it’s definitely the best option of the two big studio pictures opening this weekend.
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