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Guess Who

(Kevin Rodney Sullivan, USA, 2005)


 


The idea of reworking the overwrought interracial drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) as a comedy – and with the racial priorities reversed, so that a white man is the stranger entering a black family – is appealing. The result, sadly, is pretty flat.

Simon (Ashton Kutcher) is the boyfriend of Theresa (Zoe Saldana from Center Stage [2000] in an annoyingly girlish performance). The moment looms when he must meet Theresa’s fearsome father, Percy (Bernie Mac). Although Theresa and her kindly mother, Marilyn (Judith Scott), assure Simon that skin colour does not matter, Percy does everything in his considerable power to expose Simon as any kind of fraud, liar or wimp.

There are some funny moments in this film – and a commendably hair-raising sequence devoted to how everyday joke-telling tests the living limits of political correctness – but these are few and far between. So much of the plot is devoted to keeping Simon and Theresa out of the same bed that, by some strange force of displacement, much of the comedy ends up obsessing on cute jokes that fleetingly conjure Simon and Percy as gay lovers – sleeping together or learning the tango.

Mac is a gifted comedian whose intensity in live performance (as Spike Lee’s concert film The Original Kings of Comedy [2000] well shows) can be disconcerting. Here, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (who made the entertaining Barbershop 2: Back in Business [2004]) has problems shoehorning Mac’s persona into the limits of a Hollywood narrative.

Like De Niro in Meet the Fockers (2004), Mac tends simply to scowl and mumble insults. The moments where he really gets to perform, via song or dance, are all too rare.

© Adrian Martin April 2005


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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