Guess Who

Bomb Rating: 

In the 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," Sidney Poitier played the man coming to dinner, while Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy played the parents of the white woman Sidney was set to marry. In this vapid update, Ashton Kutcher is Simon Green. He's engaged to Theresa (Zoe Saldana) but has yet to meet her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott). Theresa has yet to tell them that Simon is white.

Does anybody else notice the slight decline in talent between Poitier and Kutcher? How about between Tracy and Mac? It's kind of comparing Pavarotti to William Hung. In terms of drop-off, it's like falling into the Marianas Trench.

This film's strategy for success seems to be the hope that most of its audience hasn't made it past high school. Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan loads his emotional palette with every crayon color under the sun. He wants the big laughs, but he also wants the touching denouement where the characters all come together and understand each other better. It's another film that feels like it was combed over by the studio in an effort to make sure that every possible demographic group was left unchallenged and unoffended.

There isn't a single instance in the film where the relationships seem the least bit believable. It's a cinematic triptych of bad acting, directing and writing. One important scene says it all: At the dinner table, Simon is goaded into telling a series of black jokes. At first, he tells jokes that everyone at the table finds funny, but he eventually errs and tells an offensive joke. The whole routine insults not only the audience's intelligence, but the characters'. When a director neither respects nor understands his characters, his film is doomed. Simon would know the last joke was offensive. Worse, the black characters aren't given enough credit not to react. It's hard to imagine any real people anywhere in the world being caught up in this particular situation.

"Guess Who" seems amiable enough, but that's precisely its problem. It makes the film more contemptible, not less. It makes the characters' eventual catharsis less believable, not more. To make matters worse, the big secret about why Simon quits his job serves the plot and the director, but not the character. It just ends up making a bad movie worse.

If the film feels like a cheat from the very beginning, that's because it is.

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