Bernie Mac plays the father who’s dismayed when his daughter brings home white boy Ashton Kutcher in this race-reversal twist on the famous Sidney Poitier film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Review by Kevin O’Reilly.
Meet The Black Parents would be a more appropriate title than Guess Who for this amusing but derivative farce. The basic premise – a girl brings home a boy from a different race – does indeed come from the vintage Sidney Poitier film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? but that’s about all. The screenwriters appear to have paid much more attention to the blockbusting Ben Stiller / Robert De Niro comedy about a hapless young man trying to impress his girlfriend’s stern father.
Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana) is a young black photographer living in New York. She’ll be spending the weekend at her parents’ house in New Jersey to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and she’s planning to use the occasion to introduce her family to her new fiancé. Simon (Ashton Kutcher) is a stockbroker, he’s successful, he’s a wonderful guy and he’s white. Theresa has told her family everything about him except that last little detail. She claims this is because she knows they wouldn’t care. Secretly it’s because she’s afraid that her father will care very much. He’s never taken to any of Theresa’s boyfriends and she’s afraid that Simon’s colour will be just the excuse he needs to turn against him too.
Her suspicion proves to be correct. Theresa’s mother and sister have no problem with Simon but Percy Jones (Bernie Mac) dislikes his daughter’s beau at first sight. When Theresa introduces the boy, he gapes at him, open-mouthed and speechless on the driveway while everyone else cringes… and things just go downhill from there. While Simon goes all out to impress his future father-in-law, everything he says and does serves only to antagonise Percy further.
Although the publicity for Guess Who plays up the racial angle, starting with its very title, the film does surprisingly little with it – Simon’s colour is just a gimmick to set up a very safe and middle-of-the-road personality clash comedy. There’s never any question that Percy is bigoted, just overprotective of his daughter, and there’s no prizes for guessing whether he and Simon will eventually end up as friends.
It’s a shame that the film tiptoes around the issues it raises because it’s at its best on the rare occasions when it confronts them head-on. In a funny and insightful scene, Percy goads Simon into telling black jokes at the dinner table, laughing at them and encouraging him to tell more until Simon finally tells one that is more racist than funny. There’s also genuine feeling in Theresa’s speech to her father about the looks she gets on the street when she’s with Simon. In these moments, Guess Who is funny, cathartic and even thought-provoking.
Mostly though, the film plays it safe and clings to the coat tails of Meet The Parents. Sometimes it clings too closely, such as when Simon improvises lies about his past to impress Percy. Too bad the screenwriters couldn’t come up with anything as funny as Ben Stiller’s story about how he milked a cat. As imitations go, Guess Who isn’t bad but it’s no match for the real thing. Still, at least it’s better than the lazy, undeservedly successful sequel, Meet The Fockers.
Timid and unoriginal as it is, Guess Who provides just enough laughs to earn a guarded recommendation – pickings are slim at the multiplex right now. The laughs come mainly from the comic pairing of Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. Mac is a successful stand-up comedian in America who’s best known here for his supporting role in Ocean’s Eleven and he’s terrific as the father from hell. He might have been even better had the film been a bit ballsier but he’s the best thing in it. When he’s thrown a decent line, he knocks it out of the park. Ashton Kutcher is a better actor than he’s given credit for and an accomplished farceur. He doesn’t drop the ball here and he makes a good foil for Mac. The two stars dominate the film and no one else gets much of a look-in except Zoe Saldana, who takes the underwritten role of Theresa, makes her warm and human and helps give this formula comedy a little more heart than you’d expect.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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