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Guess Who review

Guess Who
12Acertificate 12A
Running time: 105 minutes
Starring: Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher, Judith Scott, Zoë Saldaña, Kellee Stewart
Rating 5 out of 10
In 1967, when Guess Who's Coming To Dinner broached the controversial subject of interracial relationships, the issue was one Hollywood had rarely tackled and certainly not so lightheartedly. Back then social taboos made the topic a sensitive one for mainstream consumption, now it's more the obsessively politically correct climate. Guess Who is a contemporary spin on the Oscar winning classic, the most fundamental difference being that it is now a black family who are trying to come to terms with a daughter bringing home a white boyfriend, rather than the other way round.

Bernie Mac takes the part of the disapproving father originally played by Spencer Tracey in his final film role. Mac plays Percy Jones, a loan officer with a passion for sports. Married for 25 years to Marilyn (Judith Scott), the couple are preparing for a huge party to celebrate the renewal of their wedding vows. Daughter Theresa (Zoë Saldaña) is proposing to use the occasion to announce her engagement to whiz kid stockbroker Simon (Ashton Kutcher). The only small detail she failed to reveal to her parents in advance of her and Simon's stay at their house, is that Simon is white.

It's a premise that could be dealt with either dramatically or, as in this case, comically. The trouble then for director Kevin Rodney Sullivan and the team of screenwriters, is that they are then effectively trying to spin out one-gag over the length of the film. Despite the best efforts of Mac and Kutcher, who exhibit a nice comic rapport, Guess Who fails in pulling that feat off.

The tone throughout is safe and cuddly. Guess Who never risks dealing with racism on anything more than a superficial, corny level. As an indication of its toothless approach, the closest it comes to anything remotely touchy is during a scene in which Simon is encouraged by Percy to regale the family with his repertoire of black jokes. Initially nervous, Simon becomes bolstered by the family's laughter until he eventually oversteps the mark.

For the most part, the plot centers on Percy's initial resistance to Simon followed by the two men's eventual bonding. Too often though, Guess Who relies on gimmicks in its quest for laughs rather than allowing them to emerge more naturally. A thread involving Percy's apparent love of NASCAR racing seems a convoluted set up for a series of unfunny gags. The film's best moments come when it takes a subtler tack, allowing the always affable Mac and Kutcher to enjoy some tender, more heartfelt exchanges.

Kevin Murphy

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