Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher) is about to face every young man's worst nightmare - meeting his girlfriend's parents and spending the weekend at their home. To make matters worse his girlfriend, Theresa (Zoe Saldana), hasn't told her parents that her boyfriend is white. Much to Simon's dismay, Theresa's father Percy (Bernie Mac) takes an instant dislike to him. A stubborn and proud man, Percy is convinced that Simon is a liar and the more Simon seeks his approval, the more suspicious he becomes. Percy makes it his mission to expose Simon as a fraud, and the two men are soon locked in a ridiculous battle of wits, much to the disgust of the women in their lives.
Considering what a fertile ground it is for comedy material, it's surprising that racial politics hasn't been the subject of more comedies. It has all the elements essential to farce: misunderstanding, absurdity and a healthy dose of taboo. Handled properly, a movie about an interracial relationship could be hilariously insightful. But watching "Guess Who", you realise why so few of these comedies have been made - they can so easily turn nasty.
By far the nastiest part of "Guess Who" is the script. This kind of movie calls for subtlety, intelligence and restraint. Instead "Guess Who" is crass, simplistic and completely overstated. We all know that most people are guilty of one kind of prejudice or another - this is not funny in itself. It's not funny that black parents are shocked when their daughter brings a white boy home. What's funny is the absurdity of these attitudes and reactions - not the situation itself. It's a subtle difference - but a very important one.
Instead of exposing these absurdities, "Guess Who" is content to skate along the surface, revelling in cheap and mean spirited humour. In one scene the boyfriend and father are driving along listening to the radio, but every station they turn to is playing a song about racial relations (think Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory"). Oh hold my sides - they're splitting with laughter. This isn't funny - it's cheap and it's nasty. The movie is filled with more of these gems. It's like the filmmakers never want us to forget that Simon is white and Theresa is black because this, they think, is the funniest thing in the world.
The movie might have been somewhat redeemed by some decent physical comedy, but even this is absent. Bernie Mac has always been more of a verbal comedian than a slapstick specialist, and Kutcher just hasn't got the chops to do the heavy lifting on his own. The scenes where Kutcher and Mac share a bed (so that Percy can keep an eye on Simon) are supposed to be hilarious - they're not.
On the plus side the film does have some fairly good performances. Mac has always been a charismatic actor, and the intensity he brings to this role makes it, at the very least, believable. Zoe Saldana and Judith Scott both conduct themselves with poise and grace unworthy of this silly film - but they are starved of anything interesting to say since most of the "funny" stuff is left to the men. Why on earth should comedy still be "man's" work? Kutcher, on the other hand, is uniformly bad. Not only is his dewy eyed goody-two-shoes routine unconvincing, it's downright creepy. You keep expecting the goofball trapped inside him to leap out and yell "Psyche dude! Where's my car?"
Otherwise, apart from the distasteful racial stereotyping, "Guess Who" is thoroughly unremarkable film. Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan has spent most of his career in television and, apart from the wonderful "How Stella Got Her Groove Back", all his films have the feel of overlong TV shows. Let's just hope some TV executive doesn't watch this mess and think "Hey - what a great idea for a show!" Weekly doses of Kutcher in "good-boy" mode might be too much for the free world to handle.- Alistair Fairweather
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