April 09, 2005

MOVIES: Guess Who (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 2005)

Guess Who is a loose update of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner -- loose enough that the writers of the original don't get an on-screen credit -- with the races reversed. This time, we get Bernie Mac and Judith Scott in the Hepburn & Tracy parent roles, and Ashton Kutcher in the Sidney Poitier role.

(Talk about phrases you thought you'd never need: "...Ashton Kutcher in the Sidney Poitier role." Oy.)

The original movie really hasn't held up all that well; it's awfully sanctimonious; Spencer Tracy's illness is evident throughout, and you find yourself fearing that the character isn't going to survive the movie; and Poitier is saddled with the most Perfect of his Perfect Negro roles (a criticism of the writers, not of Poitier, who, as always, plays the part with great skill and charm).

From a commercial standpoint, an update wasn't a bad idea. Kutcher and Mac each have a loyal fan base, and there's probably relatively little overlap between the two. The race reversal from the original gives us the possibility for a fresh twist and a take on the story that we haven't seen before.

But here's what's weird about the movie: The couple whose relationship we're most interested in (and rooting for) isn't Ashton Kutcher and Zoe Saldana. Their ostensible romance isn't convincing at all, and they've got no chemistry. Their most romantic scene, a late-night stroll through her hometown, is painful to watch, and we believe they're a couple only because the script tells us so.

No, the real storyline here is the courtship by Ashton Kutcher of Bernie Mac. That's the couple we see sleeping together; that's the couple that gets the most interesting dance scene. They even share the movie's poster, with neither of the women anywhere in sight. And when it looks as if the youngsters' relationship has been broken up, it's not Saldana who rushes to the train station to bring Kutcher back, it's Mac (and he's leaving the party at which he's about to renew his own wedding vows to do so).

Is the movie any good? Eh. If you like Kutcher and Mac, you'll enjoy seeing them do their usual shtick -- ineffectual dithering doofus and slow-burn after slow-burn, respectively -- and the supporting cast is effective, if not terribly memorable. It's a perfectly adequate, and perfectly disposable, piece of Hollywood product.

But that strange and unexpected homoerotic subtext is what's going to stick with me the most, and I'm damned if I can figure out what to make of it.

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