Granted, the original Guess Who's Coming
To Dinner? was not nearly as daring as it thought it
was. Any luster it still has really comes from the powerful
cast, including the last performance of the great Spencer
Tracy, blustering toward the blissful calm of Sidney Poitier.
Since race has become an issue that we
like to pretend isn't an issue, updating the "classic"
seems like a really good idea. If having an older white
male balk at a black son-in-law is too painful to call comedy,
then by all means, let's reverse the roles. If anything,
it might lend sympathy to the father that simply wants the
best for his daughter, and really call attention to how
little has changed under the surface.
But the best we can do to step in to Poitier's
shoes is Ashton Kutcher?
Better they should have put him in The
Defiant Ones with Bernie Mac, where we could at least
pretend that Kutcher was reprising Tony Curtis. That doesn't
hurt nearly so much.
To be fair, Kutcher has come a long way
from his early days on That '70's Show, where he
refined a pitch-perfect moron persona. The actor clearly
isn't dumb, having a keen business acumen and a willingness
to stretch himself, albeit slowly. If a really good director
took him and pushed him, we might (might) one day see a
great performance from the producer of Punk'd. Kevin
Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2 is not that director.
Despite a script positioning Kutcher's
Simon Green as a financial wizard, Sullivan lets the actor
rely on his bag of moron tricks whenever possible. It's
a disservice to Kutcher, to the audience and to Mac, working
extra hard to make the movie actually be about something.
For most of the movie, the two face off
in predictable chest-beating bits that could have just as
easily been dropped into Meet the Parents. Mac's
character Percy is stunned to have his daughter Theresa
(Zoe Saldana) bring home a white boy, and believes the guy
must be hiding something. Not having DeNiro's access to
surveillance equipment, Percy can only be a jerk toward
Occasionally, Mac gets a moment that shows
Percy really has something other than bigotry on his mind;
in brief glimpses, a genuinely concerned father shows through.
But all of that falters when Sullivan wildly shifts gears,
searching for a tone that will carry everybody through to
the end. When Percy and Simon need to bond, they bond, but
for no particular reason.
One scene actually has snap to it. At dinner,
Simon tries to defend how color-blind he actually is, falling
into Percy's trap. Mac lets loose his best slow boil as
he goads Kutcher's character into telling racist jokes.
Of course Simon goes too far, but the movie quickly backs
away from the impact and the issues raised. When Simon and
Theresa have a fight, it is over a ridiculous misunderstanding,
not because there might actually be tension over an interracial
Director Sullivan does show that he did
at least watch the original film. Near the end, he has Mac
reproduce a beat from Tracy's performance. The scene in
the original didn't work that well, either, but if you want
to spend a couple of hours watching a movie with Guess
Who in the title, rent the original. If you want to
see Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher be funny, watch Fox.