'Guess Who" has raised more curiosity than the average big-screen sitcom. This is because it's an unofficial remake of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which broke new cultural ground when it opened in 1967.
The modern civil-rights movement was in full swing back then, and not everyone was ready for a Hollywood comedy about a well-off couple (Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton) abruptly announces that the man she plans to marry (Sidney Poitier) is black.
Intended as boldly progressive in the '60s era, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" has taken a lot of flak in subsequent decades from viewers who feel its liberal message is dealt from a stacked deck. It's hard to imagine who wouldn't fall for the handsome Mr. Poitier, especially when he's playing a well-spoken physician with a comfy life and a bright future. Black filmmaker Spike Lee accurately described the overall film to an interviewer as "white liberal" baloney, but added that in 1967 it was "a great advance for black people in the cinema."
We may wish racism were vanquished and liberal baloney were out of date. But bigotry remains scarily alive, so reviving the integrationist theme of the '60s movie - adjusted for the new century, of course - was an intriguing idea.
Sadly it's been botched. "Guess Who" serves up such flat dialogue and stilted situations that it's hard to sit through.
To begin with, Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher are no match for Tracy and Poitier. To be sure, Mac is a gifted comic actor and Kutcher has loyal (so far) fans. They simply don't have the star power to make a strained screenplay sound halfway credible. (The original film had an ace up its sleeve: the on-screen charisma of its cast.)
All told, the "Guess Who" screenplay isn't just weak, it's positively wooden - giving absolutely no surprises (whether or not you've seen the picture on which it's based) and telegraphing every gag long before you're supposed to laugh.
This is a pity, since the movie's subject is as relevant now (if in different, more subtle ways) as it was 38 years ago. Will some other filmmaker take a shot at this, please?
• Rated PG-13; contains sexual dialogue and vulgar language.