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Guess Who

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 Simon.

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 relationship.

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.



Derek McCaw

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