Ebony and Ivory lived together in perfect harmony.
Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, on the other hand, do not get along so well in “Guess Who,” a less serious, but nonetheless hilarious remake of the 1967 Stanley Kramer classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which starred Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katherine Hepburn.
Their antipathy for one another on screen is both funny and controversial.
“Barbershop 2” director Kevin Rodney Sullivan directs this film, which pokes fun at the issue of interracial marriage, specifically how it intensifies the already uneasy relationship between a groom and his unapproving in-laws-to-be.
The story follows Wall Street broker Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher), who travels to Concord, New Jersey with his new fiancée Theresa Jones (Zoe Zaldana) to celebrate her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.
There are, however, a few problems: Simon just quit his job and has to win over her conservative father, Percy (Bernie Mac), who not only does not know his daughter is engaged, but also frowns upon unemployment.
He even runs a credit report on Simon beforehand Percy has access to such information because he is a loan officer at a bank to make sure “the brother has a job,” one of the two prerequisites to dating his daughter. The other is what Percy will never admit to having an issue with, Simon’s skin color, which he is shocked to learn is white.
The movie revolves around this uneasy tension between the two as they try to get along, but inevitably bite each other’s heads off, which makes for good comedy.
Mac’s over-the-top, in-your-face attitude plays well against Kutcher’s bumbling attempts to gain his respect.
A scene that accurately portrays this relationship is when Percy challenges Simon to a go-cart race. He wants to find out if Simon really used to work with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon as a test driver, like he said he had, before a violent crash apparently ended his career.
The truth is that Simon made it up to impress Percy, who does not believe someone can be a real man unless he plays some kind of sport.
“I thought of the whitest sport I could think of,” Simon tells Theresa, who clears up this misconception by saying that all kinds of people enjoy NASCAR, not just white people. Her father, as it turns out, is a die-hard fan of Jeff Gordon.
Another funny, yet controversial, scene is one that takes place at the Jones dinner table when Theresa’s grandfather comes over to break bread with the family and his granddaughter’s new boyfriend. He immediately takes issue with Simon’s ethnicity.
“What’s with the white kid?” he asks before he can even sit down.
Percy reminds him, “I told you at the home … this is Theresa’s new boyfriend.”
“I though you was kidding,” the grandfather responds.
Simon forgives his remarks because the man is from a different time like his grandmother, he tells the Joneses, who says similar things about black people, as do other members of his family.
Of course, Percy goads him into elaborating and Simon obliges by telling a few black jokes that get progressively more racist, but tame enough to move the story along without offending audiences. This is the best way, he says, to confront such negative thinking.
In this way, the plot reflects how race relations have changed since the original movie came out in theatres almost 40 years ago.
Interestingly enough, the witty screenplay was co-written by the same guy, William Rose, who wrote the 1967 film, a testament to this kind of progressive thinking.
David Ronn, who has written screenplays for movies like “I-Spy” and “Serving Sara,” also co-wrote.
“Guess Who” is the kind of flick people go to see when they want to forget about the seriousness of the world and have a few chuckles.
It will make you laugh so hard you’ll feel ashamed of yourself, but in a good way.
Rating: * * * * (out of four).