"Guess Who"'s making an awkward, insipid race comedy

April 2, 2005, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 15 years, 9 months ago

No really, guess. Go on. Oh all right: Does the name Kevin Rodney Sullivan mean anything to you? It shouldn't, really; his film credits are unsurprisingly thin. Sullivan's directorial genius has produced such timeless classics as "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." "Guess Who," Sullivan's remake of a 1967 movie clunkily titled "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," improves little more than the name on its way to poking fun at the same tired differences between black people and white people and, ultimately, embarrassing both factions.

The plot of Sullivan's travesty can be summarized in approximately one inane and immature half-sentence: Hey look, the black girl's got a white boyfriend. The former half of that hilarious duo, Theresa (reasonably talented unknown Zoe Saldana) takes the latter, Simon Green (the comically pale Ashton Kutcher) to meet her (surprise!) black family (the only important member of which is the loud and boisterous Bernie Mac). The result is a "Meet the Parents"-esque assortment of errors, though I hesitate to call it a "comedy."

Sullivan's main problem here is his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to play off chemistry instead of blatantly awkward race humor. While Kutcher and Mac display rudimentary affinity, their connection is never fully established or explored as Kutcher bumbles through his stereotypically white-boy lines and Mac bellows his stereotypically angry-black-man retorts. The same is true of most of the character-character interactions, which leaves the whole cast underdeveloped and unsatisfying.

Sullivan might have scored some points back if he'd attacked the humor more tastefully, but alas the poor man just doesn't know where to stop. There's the obligatory mistaken identity joke: Mac mistakes the black cab driver for her daughter's boyfriend and begins to immediately take a liking to him, while ordering the white Simon to take the luggage to the front door. There's the predictable 'Men don't understand women' segue, complete with tipsy black women support group. There's the suddenly-typical 'Real men don't understand metrosexuals' tension. In fact, when "Guess Who" ends, there isn't an offensive or derogatory stone left unturned. Sullivan manages to categorize everybody, which leaves his 'Everybody's getting along now' happy ending painfully shallow.

Rarely is a movie summarizable by a single scene, but with "Guess Who" it's very doable. There is a scene midway through the movie where Simon is goaded into telling black jokes at a family dinner involving Theresa's grandfather. Predictably, he crunches through one too many, and the whole table cringes at his bad judgment; the grandfather even threatens to beat him senseless. Mac takes his leave shortly thereafter. The awkwardness and sheer bad taste of the moment are mind-boggling, leaving the audience only to cringe, or perhaps take Mac's route.

"Guess Who" is rated PG-13 for sex-related humor and is now playing everywhere.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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