The tables are turned in this loose remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which owes more to Meet the Parents and The Bernie Mac Show than the then-controversial 1967 race-relations social satire. Instead of Spencer Tracy grilling Sidney Poitier, Bernie Mac casts a suspicious eye at prospective son-in-law Ashton Kutcher.
A skittish young man fears nothing but the worst when he finally agrees to meet his fiancée's parents. Stubborn and standoffish, the father takes an instant disliking to the boyfriend he feels is unworthy of his daughter's love and affection. So while the young man tries to win over his future in-laws, the father sets out to prove his daughter's wasting her time with this devoted but awkward and athletically challenged goofball of a boyfriend. Sounds familiar? Sure does. Guess Who shamelessly but futilely attempts to exploit the funny feud between Meet the Parents' Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller. ''These eyes, they see everything,'' Bernie Mac cautions Ashton Kutcher, an obvious pilfering of De Niro's ''I'm watching you'' warning to Stiller. So any resemblance to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner--which dissected Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's knee-jerk reaction to their daughter's interracial romance with Sidney Poitier--seems almost incidental. In Guess Who, Mac's more upset that his daughter (Zoë Saldaña) saw fit not to tell him that she's dating a white man. Sure, color plays a factor in this tussle over Saldaña, but not to an extend that Guess Who ever serves as an earnest or illuminating study in the racial disharmony that still exists in today's America.
Imagine an episode of The Bernie Mac Show that plagiarizes Meet the Parents. That's Guess Who, with Mac essentially playing his well-meaning but meddling sitcom alter ego. The TV version of Bernie Mac is no different than Guess Who's Percy Jones: both are delightfully gruff but dedicated family men who think they know what's best for their kids. And much of the hilarity comes from Mac embarrassing himself to prove he's always right, even when he knows he's wrong. OK, so you can see Mac make a fool of himself for free every Friday night on Fox TV, but his slow burns and putdowns in Guess Who are priceless. He also plays the race card so deftly, and to such hysterical effect, that you hold no grudge against him for the awful things he does to Kutcher. Oh yeah, Kutcher. After seven seasons on That '70s Show, Kutcher still has no feel or flair for comedy. He's jittery, hesitant and blander than vanilla ice cream, as he was in Just Married and My Boss's Daughter. There's really not much fun to be derived in watching Mac match wits with this dullard. And it's hard to understand why Saldaña--so bright, warm and refined--would even hook up with Kutcher's irritating bundle of nerves. Her Theresa's obviously colorblind when it comes to love, but her choice in men leaves little to be desired.
With How Stella Got Her Groove Back and HBO's Soul of the Game, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan proved he had something important to say about the black experience in America. Too bad Sullivan fails to make Guess Who vaguely relevant or mildly insightful. Interracial romances are certainly more accepted today than they were when in the turbulent 1960s, when Stanley Kramer made Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. But no one bats an eye at Kutcher and Saldaña holding hands in public, and Mac's discombobulated dad does not possess an Archie Bunker-like hatred of white folks. Kutcher quits his high-paying job for noble reasons, but Sullivan denies us a single defining moment to appreciate the hardships Kutcher and Saldaña claim to face daily. Accordingly, Guess Who is rendered moot by its near-absence of racial tension. There is one get-together that offers unrealized potential: during dinner, Mac goads Kutcher into telling the most insulting black jokes he knows. It's truly uncomfortable to sit through, but Sullivan fails to explore the friction caused by the punch lines. The jokes are told purely for shock value, and nothing else. Then again, Sullivan seems more content concocting Meet the Parents-style antics to fuel the antagonism between Mac and Kutcher. Unfortunately, Sullivan is so clumsy and heavy-handed that it's hard to find much humor in Mac and Kutcher constantly sharing a bed or establishing their dominance via a go-kart race. By the time Guess Who reaches its corny climax, when everyone predictably kisses and makes up, you'll wish that Mac had succeeded in giving Kutcher the boot.
Decline Guess Who's invitation to meet the parents, unless you truly enjoy the hilarious Bernie Mac at his grouchiest. But he deserves better than Guess Who, and so do we.