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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Guess Who? — Movie Review

Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac star in the not-too-funny, but not-too-bad Guess Who. A remake of Stanley Kramer’s 1967 drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, I have to guess this story of interracial romance worked much better as a drama. I never saw the original, but the remake (billed as a comedy) just wasn’t very funny.

Percy Jones (Mac) is not thrilled when the boyfriend with a great job — which he knows because he’s done a background check — that his daughter is bringing home turns out to be white. Simon Green (Kutcher) doesn’t help things much when he starts telling lies meant to impress Jones. Their relationship gets stranger and stranger, and Green’s lie of omission about quitting his job to fiancée Theresa (Zoë Saldana) threatens to make the whole thing mute.

There was plenty of talk in the DVD extras about going beyond the racial component of the story. The filmmakers actually accomplished this with tension between Jones and Green that was based on a lot more than race. The problem was that they kept going for the laugh and breaking the story’s momentum.

A strong early scene shows Jones grilling Green on his lack of experience with playing sports. It was a big, imposing father giving his daughter’s boyfriend a hard time, though a definite racial undertone was present. Pushed hard, Green went with a lie about NASCAR to get Jones off his back. If it ended there, it would’ve been fine. Instead, they kept going back to it for punch lines.

Another scene attempted to tackle the issue of racial jokes. Green stumbles into having to tell some “black jokes.” It was just so awkward that the potentially poignant scene is destroyed.

When the humor was put aside, Mac and Kutcher had some very strong scenes. When the wife (Judith Scott) and girlfriend/daughter end up ticked at both of them, they find ways to connect that aren’t sappy or phony. Saldana and Keisha Jones helped the film overcome the comedy label a bit with strong performances.

Somewhere between my worth watching and just entertaining, I give Guess Who? the latter, lesser rating.

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