You will find no bigger fan of Meet the Parents.
I could watch it every day, by day, by day. This is not just because my folks, though lovely people, are more than capable of breaking a future engagement (moving to the sillier sequel for a moment, picture a thinner, shorter, church-going Mrs. Focker with a Mexican accent: that's my mother). It a work of utter comic genius, first of all, and secondly, it could spell "relationship" without "gross" or "girly," achieving hormonal balance between hot-for-boobs spew like Road Trip and Super Troopers and disposable tampons Little Black Book and Someone Like You. After all, you can milk anything with nipples. If it pays right.
As we all know, Hollywood is a loot it and shoot it industry. It has no qualms milking anything and everything for pay?whatever it's worth?over and over again. Strictly speaking, it's a plagiarist's paradise. And when the assignment is blockbuster comedy, Guess Who wanted the passing grade?
In director Kevin Sullivan's meager update of the 1967 Sidney Poitier classic Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, Ashton Kutcher plays Simon Green, an up-and-coming financier who comes home with would-be fiancée Theresa (Zoe Saldana) to meet the parents and announce their engagement. Theresa, who is black, briefed the folks about her latest beau in all but one detail. "You didn't tell them I'm...pigment impaired?" Simon squeals. Of course, it shouldn't matter. But in Jack Byrnes fashion, Dad Percy Jones (Bernie Mac) is going to give this well-meaning white boy hell before he can let go of his little girl.
In most things plot structure, Guess Who is the spitting image of its Parents. Basically, that means that utter failure?at least in pure entertainment?is impossible. So yes, the film is fun. In-law humor never really gets old, for starters. Then there's the comic chemistry between Bernie and Ashton?the man of the house and his unwanted guest. This relationship has little of the clever subtlety between Jack and Greg in Meet the Parents; Percy and Simon erupt in outlandish gun slinging way before they reach ten paces. Not to worry, though. After they go-cart, wrestle, and share a bed, they work out some of their issues through tango. It's cute. Really.
Speaking of which, before I move on to the unfortunate stuff, it's time for the shameless romantic lead interlude. Ladies, you first. Our dude without a car has grown up?and has never looked hotter. Ashton is way past his That 70s Show horny dumbness and the hungover, shower-phobic college thing he's sported almost everywhere else. He did play a well-kempt young lover drowning in awkwardness in Just Married two years back, with then-girlfriend Brittany Murphy. But that, unfortunately, was another tampon. And he actually has a far better screen thing going on here with Zoe.
Guys, you may recognize this gorgeous actress from some ugly movies, like Drumline (2002), if you were one of the three people who saw that. If you're a recovering teeny-bopper, or take some sick pleasure in repeatedly stabbing time to a bloody pulp, you saw her in Crossroads (2002) playing the feistier of Britney's road-tripping gal pals. We now know she had far more potential.
And so, as it turns out, did Guess Who's socially significant premise. It's about meeting parents, yes, but more importantly to the casual moviegoer?to anyone who found the trailer interesting, really?it's about meeting parents of a different race. Rather than look into this like a good little movie, though, Guess Who brings it down from its mantle like Jack's mother's ashes, then sweeps the remains so far under a rug of comic trivialities that you barely know it's there. Forget unoriginality; this is the film's biggest problem. One scene at the dinner table in which Simon crosses the line with a racist joke made the audience gasp. But that was as far as it was willing to go. Sure, no one can yell at comedy for failing to take things seriously. But a better film would have looked the issue right in the eye and still found comedy in its absurdity. A better film would not have been so afraid to laugh up the darker truths.
Meet the Parents was very successful, as Guess Who will be, but it worked because it was driven by the perennial in-laws conflict of taste, not as demanding and difficult a theme as race. And while borrowing Meet the Parents helped get the humor down and bring back fans like yours truly for another dose, it was a relatively quick, easy, and forgettable one. And I doubt that director Kevin Sullivan, who said he made the film to "work out my issues" before his 12-year-old "comes home with some Lithuanian, Samoan, punk-rock drummer dude" left the film any more enlightened.