Friday, December 28, 2007

The mathematics of Guess Who

Guess Who: 2 ½ (2005): 1 ½ stars (out of 4)

Ashton Kutcher meets his future father-in-law (Bernie Mac) for the first time and laughs arise aplenty from the cultural clashes that occur. This film is a remake of a 1960’s social commentary film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” but it comes across more as a remake of Meet the Parents with black jokes than it does a message picture. This film is so derivative, in fact, that I can actually be summed up in a mathematical formula:

2/3 (Meet the Parents + Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner -1 – Social Significance – Ben Stiller + My Boss’s Daughter’s Ashton Kutcher) + 1/3 (half-hour sitcom of the UPN) = Guess Who.

So that pretty much sums it up right there. Not only is the picture formulaic, but I can give you this picture in an actual mathematical formula and you could probably predict the plot development at any given point:

And here’s a key to how the plot works:
The movie is supposed to be a loose remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a socially conscious picture from the 1960’s about an interracial couple seeking their parents’ approval. The exponent of -1 is because the racial roles in the film are reversed. I also subtract the social significance because in the 1960’s an interracial couple would have have faced threats to their lives as well as discrimination in employment and housing whereas the worst a 2005 interracial couple would have to face would be arguments over whether to watch BET or CBS. There’s also a little bit of My Boss’s Daughter thrown in. In that film, Kutcher also played a young professional trying to impress his love interest’s father, and it was Kutcher’s very last film, so if you’re wondering if anyone’s getting bored of seeing Kutcher in the same role over and over again, well, apparently not Ashton Kutcher.
In the third act of the film, when both Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher have made their respective love interests so angry that they leave them, then the two have to team up to get them black and Ashton Kutcher “blacks it up” by singing some Barry White to his fiancée to serenade her back. This part significantly deviates a little from the message-less social significance remake/Meet the Parents hybrid and turns into one of those shows on the now deceased UPN filled with clichés.
But nevertheless, this doesn’t rule out any and all merit to the film (it rules out most of it, though). I’m not that much of a stickler for originality anyway. I ended up judging the picture more as a genre film now, in that I’m seeing how it handles the conventions of this same plot that I’ve see in A Guy Thing, Meet the Parents, The In-Laws, My Boss’s Daughter, etc. So here are my notes:

-Ashton Kutcher and the leading lady have no chemistry whatsoever, if the film is going to earn the right to be a remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, that would’ve been key. This same thing happened in the Score with Angela Bassett and Robert De Niro or “Executive Decision” with Kurt Russell and Halle Berry and I have yet to see a film with an interracial couple with any chemistry, although I think Pierce Brosnam and Halle Berry came close.
-Bernie Mac was surprisingly good. Judging by his work in Ocean’s 11, where he’s the stereotypical threatening black guy in Ocean’s 11, or a vice presidential candidate with the potential to make Dan Quayle look like a member of MENSA, I might have expected Mac to cater to negative African-American stereotypes, but I felt like he tight roped a thin line between being humorous and being a dignified father figure
-Ok, Bernie Mac going to sleep with Ashton Kutcher was kind of funny, I will admit and the fact that he didn’t just sleep in his bed the first night but every night thereafter was also pretty funny.
-The sideplot of Ashton Kutcher losing his buiness was more interesting than the main plot, and since this plot is so derivative, I might have preferred to see that as the film in retrospect
-The climactic conversation is funny, I’ll give it that
-An akward attempt at slight commentary here: stereotypes with sports, the “I had a black girlfriend, I’m not racist"
-The advantage is that Bernie Mac can be more corrosive or scary which could lead to more comedic situations