U.S. Release Date:
March 25, 2005
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Writer: David Ronn, Jay Scherick
Producer: Erwin Stoff
Cast: Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher, Zoe Saldana
Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sex-related humor)
With zero expectations that Hollywood's umpteenth remake would be anything but another wreck, Sony's Guess Who surprises with good acts and a story that is not sacrilege to its source. It's not original and it is mildly offensive in spots, but it features an appealing Ashton Kutcher.
Remaking director and producer Stanley Kramer's 1967 motion picture Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? is a dubious prospect. It starred sparkling Katharine Hepburn in her prime, Spencer Tracy—his performance is still powerful—Sidney Poitier in his banner year—he owned the screen in To Sir, With Love and In the Heat of the Night—and sprightly Katharine Houghton (seen briefly last year in Kinsey) in an intelligent affirmation of love and idealism. Part of me still wants to say watch the video instead.
But director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2: Back in Business) generally retains the essentials, thankfully sparing the audience the gross gags that plague comedies today. Applying the broad theme of romantic love against racist tendencies—using blacks for a change—Sullivan wisely amplifies the best aspects of the script, and he gets the most mileage from his cast.
The main actors are delightful. As the black woman in love, Zoe Saldana (Torres in The Terminal) is smart, chipper and convinced that love conquers all, including family resistance to bringing a white man home. Dad is played with gruff stubbornness by Bernie Mac, and mom is Judith Scott (The Santa Clause). On the eve of their 25th anniversary celebration, the parents prepare to meet the man they hope—actually, only Dad hopes—will be like Denzel Washington. Instead, Ashton Kutcher shows up.
Kutcher is perfect as the goofy but sweet man who loves their daughter. In a reversal of Mr. Poitier's doctor—who defied the racial stereotypes of the day—Kutcher is a struggling professional who meets every one of Mac's "Don't Date" criteria for his darling daughter. Kutcher's character is playful, not stupid, and his fresh style of comedy winks and smiles. Mac's family is the first decent portrayal of a black middle class family in a long time.
Kutcher and Mac clash when Saldana discovers a minor transgression, later accounted for, and storms out of the house with mother, who is sparring with her husband over his resistance to a Caucasian in the family. It's pretty predictable and, at times, unfunny, as when they sit down to dinner, with the family making fun of Whitey—through Grandpa, played by Hal Williams (Private Benjamin, television's 227)—or when Mac and Kutcher engage in a silly go-kart race. Thanks to Kutcher and Mac's amiability, though, these scenes are lighthearted diversions.
With the men shut out by their women, Mac and Kutcher bond—a dancing scene is a hoot—and old softy director Sullivan stretches Guess Who's romantic legs for a fine finish about falling in love. It is good love, and everyone is happy and true to their souls. With something nice to say about racial harmony, values and romantic love, Guess Who ends on an up note with a little more of what the world needs now.
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