Banal Dinner

'Guess Who' could have been a comedy with a powerful message, but it chickened out

A couple of movie stars give it a good go in Guess Who, but this is a comedy that offers very little in the way of laughter and a little too much in the ways of banality. Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac endure a bunch of improbable, embarrassing situations (being forced to share a bed, driving go carts into busy city streets) in a movie that never truly takes flight. This is a film that fails to distinguish itself. While the movie advertises itself as a comedy about interracial relationships, it seems to be scared of itself. Apart from a dinner-table scene where race relations are bluntly approached in a truly funny and shocking manner, the film directs most of its humor at other targets. Metrosexuals, corporate humor and Ashton Kutcher's dick size distract from the film's supposed goal of showing that race relations have improved since the 1967 inspiration for this film, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's somewhat lousy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Kutcher plays Simon, an investment banker who has quit his job under mysterious circumstances, right before he is to meet his possible future father-in-law (Mac). His girlfriend, Theresa (Zoe Saldana), has refrained from telling her parents that he's a white guy. This sets the stage for the inevitable "What the hey?" moment where Theresa's dad, Percy, (Mac) mistakes the cab driver for his daughter's beau, and Simon is, more or less, humiliated. Ha, ha, ha, ha ... whatever.

Simon wants to be liked, doing his best to bond with Percy and enduring various humiliations such as being relegated to a basement fold-away couch, with the protective Percy as a bed partner (ha-ha-snort-ha ... whatever). During the film's sole eye-opening moment, Percy taunts Simon into telling racist jokes at the dinner table. Everybody laughs until Simon goes too far, and this amounts to one of only a few times the film feels honest and daring.

The movie then veers off the subject of race relations as Simon's reliability comes into question when his job status is discovered, and Percy gets into trouble for not taking his 25th anniversary party seriously. Guess Who becomes just another male-bonding film as Simon and Percy work together to win their women back and provide the happy ending.

While the title and supposed subject matter suggest the film is a remake of Dinner, this one is closer in tone to Ben Stiller's Meet the Parents: A well-meaning young man gets harassed by a psycho father who looks into the man's background info without his permission. That father also does everything he can do to prevent the man from sleeping with his daughter under his roof. The only thing missing is the cat crapping in the toilet.

Kutcher is a decent-enough comic actor, squirming with convincing discomfort and managing to create someone sympathetic in Simon. While he often takes flack for his relationships and role choices, the guy possesses decent comic timing (his dopey character on That 70's Show is pretty funny stuff). Mac is a credible enough grump, although his character here is totally unlikable. The script tries to give Percy some sort of redemption, but he never rises above the level of certifiable nut.

At the risk of sounding a bit cliché, I will go ahead and advise those curious about this one to wait for the video. It's a harmless, safe comedy about a subject that perhaps requires some more edge and brutal honesty. Guess Who would like you to think it's about something substantial and important, but in the end winds up being just another crazy daddy movie.

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