By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Bernie Mac, Zoe Saldana, Judith Scott; directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Rated PG-13 (for sex-related humor)
When he’s not hyperactive and self-congratulatory on his MTV show “Punk’d,” Ashton Kutcher can be bearable to watch and even prove slight comedic chops. He’s toned himself down in his latest comedic venture, “Guess Who,” starring alongside Bernie Mac.
The film is an updated version of the classic 1967 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the last team effort of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In the original, Hepburn and Tracy’s daughter, played by Katharine Houghton, brings home her black fianc� (Sidney Poitier) to meet her white suburban family. In “Guess Who,” the roles are reversed when Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana), who is black, brings home her white boyfriend, Simon Green (Kutcher), to meet her family. The updated version continues the conversation of racial prejudices and comfort zones in America but does not carry near the political weight as its predecessor did, especially since it comes almost 40 years later.
This version begins with Simon quitting his successful job in New York City after his boss makes a racist comment when he learns Simon and Theresa are engaged. But, of course, Simon can’t tell Theresa he just lost his job on the day they are traveling to New Jersey to meet her parents. So he lies.
The two show up in Jersey and deliver quite a shock to her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn Jones (Judith Scott), who had heard all about Simon-except the part about him being white.
Naturally, Percy and Marilyn try their best to be welcoming to Simon, though Percy continues to beleaguer him with questions and size him up. Once Percy catches the couple kissing in Theresa’s bedroom, it’s out the door for Simon and into a hotel room that Percy booked months in advanced, assuming he wouldn’t like Theresa’s boyfriend. But the hotel gave his room away, and Percy is forced to let Simon back into his home, this time having him sleep in the basement. Percy not only padlocks the basement door but also sleeps on the pullout couch with Simon, just to make sure he doesn’t sneak out to visit Theresa.
“Guess Who” is forced to rely on other plotlines outside of race relations because the tension interracial couples faced in the ’60s has changed dramatically during the past 40 years. The role reversal is a pleasant change, however, with Simon coming from a single-parent household with a mother who worked three jobs to support him. The Joneses live in a nice suburban home, wear nice clothes, drive expensive cars and eat at fancy restaurants. Marilyn and Percy also are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary during Simon and Theresa’s stay. The reversal also touches on the reservations other races have toward white people instead of the normally represented outsider coming into a white home.
Naturally, Percy learns Simon is in financial trouble and that he lost his job, and through their arguments they alienate Marilyn and Theresa, who jump in their Lexus and head to Marilyn’s sister’s house. Simon and Theresa are forced to analyze their relationship, and Percy reconsiders his treatment of Simon.
While not near as painful to watch as “Meet the Parents,” the film forces the same type of uncomfortable laughter during embarrassing situations you can somewhat relate to and pray you will never be in. But, it is at times entertaining to watch because of Mac’s and Kutcher’s bantering and antics.
“Guess Who” is an unnecessary remake of an already good film and fails to offer much political and societal issues to contemplate or even solutions to the issues it does present. The only theme that is apparent after viewing the film is that race is only an issue because humans make it an issue. The family experiences trouble when they fail to look beyond skin tone and stereotypes.