Successful, protective African-American parents Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott) are awaiting the arrival of their daughter, Theresa (Zoe Saldana, overacting wildly), and her new boyfriend. What they want is a rich, honest black man they can call their son, but what they get is Simon (Aston Kutcher), a recently unemployed white guy who greatly upsets Percy. The two men immediately butt heads, and through a series of comical mishaps, their relaxing weekend quickly becomes undone.
"Guess Who" (IMDb listing) has taken on the dangerous assignment of updating the 1967 interracial classic, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan ("Barbershop 2"), the picture doesn't take that challenge too seriously, and the new "Who" is a much more slapsticky affair, without any major Hollywood royalty among its actors. But it does have Bernie Mac, and he's enough to get the film halfway to quality.
"Guess Who" opens as a big, broad comedy about racial confusion and parental protection, and Sullivan keeps the film cheerful and moving in a non-offensive way. Written by David Ronn, Jay Scherick, and Peter Tolan, "Who" has the traditional checklist of sitcomish sequences involving Percy and Simon, most of which "Meet the Parents" did better, but the humorous material works due to the persistence of the cast. Sullivan knows very well that whenever he gets into trouble, he can cut to Mac and his hilarious icy stare, and the film gets right back on the comedic track. "Who" is entertaining when it tries to have fun with its leaden material, permitting the actors to roll around in the unease of the situation.
The fun stops when "Who" grows a heart. Without the regal presence of Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, or Spencer Tracy, not to mention the hot-button issue of race relations in the late 1960s, this new "Who" comes to a crashing halt every time it mentions racial differences and struggles. I do believe the topic has plenty of wealth in it, but not in this movie. Can a film be taken seriously when it features Ashton Kutcher parading around in women's lingerie and a teary-eyed Zoe Saldana recalling her interracial dating struggles? The autopilot script runs through the melodramatic motions over and over, unaware that "Guess Who" is shining its brightest as a silly, carefree romp about miscommunication, and not as a dull, screenwriting template featuring unwelcome dramatics and characters we hardly care about. Laughs are paramount here, yet Sullivan isn't sharp enough to recognize that.
"Guess Who" features fine chemistry between Kutcher and Mac, and I hope they share plans to team up again for another film that could meet their best comedic abilities more interestingly than this. "Guess Who" might mean well, but the time when this story carried the most weight has passed, and it'll take a little more than sleepy screenwriting and direction to reawaken its effectiveness.
Filmfodder Grade: C