Interracial relationships are manipulated into a slapstick setup for Guess Who, a second-rate reworking of a former Best Picture contender.
There’s something fascinating about the fact that in 1967, this same storyline was parlayed into ten Academy Award nominations (winning two) as the socially conscious and racially progressive Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Whereas that film boasted a cast including Hollywood icons Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier – with 23 acting nominations spread between them – this time around we get Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac. A duo of purely comedic stars with hopes for blossoming acting careers, they’re hardly the tandem to match up to the original’s sterling cast.
Suffice it to say, this remake doesn’t have quite the same critical aspirations.
Besides the fundamental plot set-up, Guess Who goes in a completely different direction, abandoning its roots in favor of a more lucrative Meet the Parents-vibe. Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2) spends most of his time directly stealing from that successful 2000 comedy even more so than the Stanley Kramer classic from which the film is supposedly based.
Doing little besides aping Ben Stiller’s already exhausted shtick is Kutcher as Simon Green. In a move of unfathomable casting, he’s supposed to be portraying some type of whiz-kid stockbroker. Meanwhile, Kutcher’s That 70’s Show co-star Topher Grace already nailed the corporate takeover scene last year in the charming In Good Company.
Freefalling back to reality by the end of the first scene, Simon quits his job and is suddenly unemployed on the weekend he is supposed to meet his fiancee’s parents. From here on out, the only twist from Parents is that Robert De Niro’s character of a disapproving father-in-law is now played by the equally disapproving Bernie Mac.
Resigned to the fact that this isn’t going to be able to live up to (or even evoke) any memories of the original, Sullivan has instead fashioned his already mediocre remake into a mediocre buddy film. While Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was produced as a societal wake-up call for racial equality, at least Guess Who seems to think we’re well past that and are more interested in watching halfhearted gags between in-laws.
The rest of the film depicts the hopelessly Caucasian Simon Green’s attempts to win over his father in-law through a series of events that somehow lead him to telling racial jokes, driving NASCAR-inspired go-carts and sleeping in the same bed with Percy (Mac).
Mac, who managed to liven up Ocean’s Eleven and Bad Santa nicely in the few scenes he was in, seems better suited to brief cameo roles. His only other big-screen starring vehicle was the thoroughly unlikable Mr. 3000, and here he’s saddled with just another unpleasant character the audience has no chance to warm up to.
After expectations have been sufficiently lowered, Simon and Percy’s exchanges get to be enough to pass the time. Watching these two actors try their hardest to create a movie career out of nothing is actually pretty entertaining, but the whole script is just so outlandishly bad there’s no hope of rescuing it.
Best served as a thought-free experience, Guess Who is a mildly comical time-killer. Although, sadly, it’s probably Kutcher’s best film to date. Having a history in comedy, both he and Bernie Mac offer moments of levity when each hits at least a couple of amusing lines. But the film is fatally pointless. There’s just no reason to be making this movie. Especially when the market is already saturated with Fockers, and everybody, even Shrek, has already met the in-laws.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.