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A Second Helping 

Let this review be a lesson to anyone who chooses to judge a movie before seeing it. After seeing the trailer, I had no desire even to watch this one, never mind write about it. I mean, how dare Hollywood take a classic (though slightly flawed) film, beloved by most, and remake it with the supposedly clever idea of flipping its racially charged story around. In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Sidney Poitier was the black suitor introduced to the white future father-in-law (Spencer Tracey), resulting in both comic and serious social commentary. Now here we have Ashton Kutcher as the white suitor being introduced to the black future father-in-law (Bernie Mac), and a script that features many more guffaws than serious thoughts.

What a dumb idea. What a waste of time and ticket money for moviegoers.

Boy, was I wrong! So much for conjecture. Guess Who, while borrowing liberally from the original film's plotline, takes the story in all kinds of new directions, and does so with a fresh and funny script and terrific performances by Mac and (please let me keep my credibility after saying this) Kutcher, both of whom instill their characters with a bountiful measure of physical comedy. Mac makes great use of his heft and giant eyes, and Kutcher goes the opposite route with some meek, nervous bumbling.

The story centers on the upcoming 25th anniversary party of Percy (Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott), the party at which their daughter Theresa (Zoe Saldana) has decided to introduce her as-yet-unseen boyfriend and Wall Street up-and-comer Simon (Kutcher). She's talked about him with her folks before, but never mentioned that he's, umm, pigmently challenged.

There's plenty of originality here, but there's also been a bit of borrowing from films other than this one's predecessor. The most blatant -- but still funny -- instances are when the wrong songs at the wrong time are played on the car radio, such as "Ebony and Ivory" and "Walk on the Wild Side" ("and the colored girls say ... "), which is right out of the Albert Brooks play book (he did the same thing in Modern Romance).

The black-white issue is always at the film's center, played out with a softball approach rather than hammering home anything too serious. Some of it is hilarious, such as when Theresa and her inquisitive sister Keisha (Kellee Stewart) have an intimate talk about, you know, the "difference" between black men and white men. But the gist of it all is more about the overall chasm between Percy and Simon, and how neither side can get over it.

The sassy women in the film are by far the stronger characters, and they're key in working out the hassles created by the men (most of them by Percy). But the film belongs to and is going to be talked about because of the guys. These are certainly the best roles so far in the careers of Mac, who graces the film with more slow burns than Oliver Hardy ever gave Stan Laurel, and Kutcher, who may have found his niche by combining pratfalls with lost-puppy looks. Their characters spend the film butting heads and keep getting caught up in little lies -- but both also have soft, mushy sides that are best shown when they're speaking in all honesty to the women in their lives.

The film loses its momentum a few times by carrying a couple of themes on a little too long and by padding the story with elements that don't really need to be there. There's an unnecessary sequence in a hotel lobby; a silly go-cart scene that seems to be there only because the filmmakers figured viewers would want a little "action"; the inclusion of a swishy "metrosexual" party planner named Dante (Robert Curtis Brown) for no discernible reason; and all those Shriners. Why is this film filled with Shriners all over the place, with no pay-off?

Yet despite those problems, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2) keeps things spinning with solid timing, in both editing and line delivery. One of his best tricks is to start a discussion in one scene with a couple of people, then cut to another scene with two different people finishing it and coming up with an unexpected punchline.

There's a safe and too-formulaic turn near the end, and the story's conclusion comes a little too easily compared to everything that had set it up. But this is, for the most part, a solid comedy with a good heart.

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