Review: Guess Who

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  March 25, 2005 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

In the immortal 1967 classic, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, a couple's (Spencer Tracey, Katharine Hepburn) attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home her prospective fiancé (Sidney Poitier), who happens to be black.

The film was a landmark of its time on so many fronts and challenged so many attitudes of the time. It also marked legendary performances from both Poitier and Tracey, but it was Hepburn who walked away with the Oscar in 1967. The film also marked an amazing year for Poitier, who made three of his most beloved classics all in the same year. Poitier also starred in To Sir, With Love and In the Heat of the Night in 1967.

The only similarity between the 1967 film and the new film seems to be the first two words of the main title. Thank God!

In the 2005 slapstick comedy, Bernie Mac plays Percy, an upstanding and successful loan officer who claims he can size up anyone he meets in 5 seconds or less. Well, that seems irrelevant when his daughter Theresa (Zoe Saldana) brings home her future fiancé Simon (Ashton Kutcher), who happens to be white. Let the games begin!

I had a lot of problems with this film, which are mainly due to the fact that the film is so blatantly formulaic, dull, and makes Bernie Mac's character so unlikable. It's almost like the filmmakers were trying for a reverse-racial comedy inspired by Meet the Parents, but instead ended up with one starring Ashton Kutcher.

There is one scene in the film that probably summed up my feelings completely when watching the film. Kutcher's character lets it slip that he knows some rather racial jokes, and Mac's proud father-figure urges him to share them at the dinner table. Kutcher's first five jokes are innocent and everyone laughs. That is until about the sixth one. Then Grandpa pounces across the table at Kutcher's character in a fit of rage.

The racial tension, misrepresentation, and complete disregard for how far the film should go or can go seems to be held back by a very thin rope attached to a very large gorilla. But what was so shocking was that the rope never snapped. And for me, this somehow made these characters more caricatures than human beings.

The great thing about the original film is that the gorilla is dealt with and addressed, and even teaches us a valuable lesson about humanity and race. The new film doesn't even try.

In all these role-reversal comedies or dramas, I always wonder what would happen if the tables were turned. But because these characters seem so detached, I didn't even think to ponder such a question. Why address such an important question to the likes of Ashton Kutcher?

My favorite scene in the film is towards the end where we have a heart-to-heart between father and daughter. The scene reveals a lot of what the film should be saying and for the only time in the picture, shows two characters as close as they can be to being human. We need more moments like this and more dealing with the obvious. We are all human no matter what color, religious denomination, or age we are. Let all those incredible feelings that make us human help us to understand and overcome the issues addressed in this film.

I have to admit that I did smirk at some scenes, but for the most part I was just wondering when that obviously huge gorilla at the centre of this piece was going to strike. (1.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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