In the role made famous by legendary actor Sidney Poitier in the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Ashton Kutcher plays Simon, a white man going home with his black girlfriend Theresa (Zoe Saldana) to meet her father Percy (Bernie Mac) and announce their engagement. The only thing standing in the couple’s way is Simon’s race — which Theresa conveniently forgot to tell her father about. Percy can’t accept Simon, and as incident after incident begins to mount against Simon — à la “Meet the Parents” — it begins to seem like he never will.
Primarily a showcase for Mac and Kutcher’s comedic talents, the film has its share of laugh-out-loud funny moments, especially in the first act where the premise still feels fresh. No topic is taboo here; racial jokes, stereotypes and generally un-PC titles get tossed around in a desperate attempt at levity that serves to mask the film’s inevitable conflict. Be that as it may, “Guess Who” is all too formulaic and predictable — but these traits naturally go with the genre, even if the touching heart-of-gold comedy isn’t a remake of a far superior film. And, though undeniably funny, the movie ends on a sour note as Kutcher and Mac (in an attempt at seriousness that actually ends up coming off as quite funny) both drop monologues so melodramatic that they could be pitching a pilot to the WB.
In their defense, Mac and Kutcher both perform well: They have a natural chemistry in their scenes together, most of which are centered around Mac’s flustered father riffing at the expense of Kutcher’s eager idiot. After “The Butterfly Effect,” it appeared that Kutcher wanted to distance himself from the dimwitted funnyman roles he is famous for. Although “Guess Who” may look like a return to the actor’s comedy roots, his turn as Simon is a departure. This comedic role is like nothing he’s ever played before: he gets laughs through genuine comic timing and subtle delivery instead of slapstick physical comedy.
Though funny and occasionally touching, this adaptation loses much of the edginess of the original film. In 1967, interracial couples were stigmatized and a taboo topic in popular media. Now that they are more accepted, audiences are more apt to be glancing around to make sure it’s all right before laughing at one of the politically incorrect jokes, rather than empathizing with the awkwardness and humiliation of the couple on screen.
Though it makes the fatal blunder of an eleventh hour attempt at seriousness, “Guess Who” is a downright funny movie, much of which is well worth the price of admission.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars