GUESS WHO (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 2005)
In 1967’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER Sidney Poitier’s white fiancé brought him home to meet her parents. The scenario gets a race reversal in the new comedy GUESS WHO. Theresa, played by Zoe Saldana, is eager to introduce her boyfriend Simon to mom and dad, but she’s neglected to mention that he’s white. Ashton Kutcher stars as Simon. Bernie Mac is Theresa’s father Percy. As if meeting his future in-laws under these conditions isn’t nerve wracking enough, Simon just quit his job but hasn’t told anyone.
While GUESS WHO gets some mileage out of its black and white issues, it’s more focused on being the interracial romantic comedy answer to MEET THE PARENTS. Bernie Mac is an intimidating but less extreme version of Robert De Niro’s overprotective dad while Kutcher is a blander Greg Focker. Just like Greg, Simon feels compelled to tell a preposterous lie and perpetuate it. Another scene riffs on the tension between future father and son-in-law while listening to the radio in the car. Mac’s standoffish screen personality lets him have a lot of fun tightening the screws on Simon; however, Kutcher feels too restrained, a quality that keeps GUESS WHO from breaking free of its conventions. Racial discomfort flavors scenes rather than dominating them. It also provides the funniest moments, as when Percy mistakes Simon for his daughter’s cabdriver and challenges him to tell offensive jokes about black people. Simon and Theresa’s relationship isn’t controversial, which highlights progress that society has made, but GUESS WHO would have been funnier if it mined the eggshell-walking the characters practice in trying not to offend.
(Review first aired on the March 29, 2005 NOW PLAYING)