It's tempting to imagineand disturbingly plausiblethat just about everything Ashton Kutcher appears in these days began life as one of his trademark pranks. That would explain both The Butterfly Effectin which Kutcher condensed a career's worth of terrible performances into a single roleand Guess Who, a listless Guess Who's Coming To Dinner remake whose audacious cosmic joke involves giving Kutcher the Sidney Poitier role.
Reversing the original film's racial dynamic, Guess Who casts Kutcher as an accomplished young businessman who quits his high-flying white-collar job the day before he meets Bernie Mac, the achievement-obsessed father of Kutcher's gorgeous, charismatic black fiancée (Zoë Saldaña). To ratchet up the conflict, Saldaña hasn't told her father that her fiancé is white, so when they're introduced, he's understandably shocked and more than a little horrified. Kutcher tries to ingratiate himself with Mac, but due to an endless series of easily preventable social blunders, he only ends up antagonizing him further. In a typical scene, Mac goads Kutcher into telling a series of black jokes during a family dinner; Mac's family inexplicably guffaws, until, of course, Kutcher goes too far and amusement immediately segues into shock and outrage. That sequence feels like the entire film in miniature: an implausible, wildly protracted setup that drags on forever before reaching a payoff that barely registers.
Guess Who sets up Kutcher and Mac for a comic throwdown, but watching the ferocious Mac match wits with the featherweight Kutcher is like watching a heavyweight champion devastate a glass-jawed journeyman for 12 rounds before the officials declare a draw. A performer as commanding and dynamic as Mac needs a strong foil, and Kutcher is nowhere near up to the task. The clumsy yuppie earnestness that constitutes his character's one note still remains far outside his limited range.
Of course, Stanley Kramer's original was no gem either. It's the kind of dated exercise in heavy-handed liberal piety that gets hailed as a classic in some quarters (it was nominated for 10 Oscars and undeservedly won for best actress and best original screenplay) without ever being any good. But Dinner's conceit doesn't work any better as slapstick comedy, and a surprising percentage of the original's ham-fisted speechifying about the challenges facing interracial couples makes it into the ostensibly sassier remake. If nothing else, Guess Who taps into a surprisingly universal emotion: What father, black or white, wouldn't want to keep a goober like Ashton Kutcher from joining the family?