If it’s true that man only uses 10 percent of his brain capacity at any given time, somebody got short-changed on a pile of swill called Guess Who. This cheesy, brain-dead remake of Stanley Kramer’s 1967 milestone Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner reverses the races, with the spastic Ashton Kutcher in the Sidney Poitier role and, as a black Spencer Tracy, someone from the noisy, eye-rolling Uncle Remus School of Dramatic Art called Bernie Mac, who reminds me of something in a can. How bad an idea is that? I’ll tell you. Rotten enough to send any sane, self-respecting person with an I.Q. over 40 racing for the nearest freeway entrance. But horrors never cease. This moronic drivel opened No. 1 at the box office in its first week, only a few Uggs ahead of the vomitous Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. It’s all part of the dumbing down of American culture that keeps critics stupefied and sane people retching.
Against my will, I saw Guess Who in a real movie house with an audience composed entirely of teenagers, all of whom seemed to be more interested in wolfing down smelly concession-stand nachos and playing with their cell phones than watching the movie. Nobody was laughing. Frankly, it’s doubtful that anybody in the audience had ever even heard of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Just as well, since what happens for 103 minutes is enough to put you off your own dinner and then some. Mr. Kutcher more or less plays Simon, a gnat-brain who wants to marry a lovely, intelligent black girl named Teresa. This is the weekend they will announce their engagement at her parents’ beautiful suburban home in New Jersey. But this time, the invader doesn’t just come for dinner. He stays for days of endless insults, emotional torture, preposterous sitcom gags and bad acting. Within one hour, Daddy catches Mr. Kutcher trying on his daughter’s lingerie (which also makes no sense, unless the movie is about something much darker than skin tone, which might give it a soupçon of interest), and it’s downhill from there. Of course, Simon is an idiot, but his ordeal is so cruel, mean-spirited and hateful that it never makes any sense why he would stay for one night, much less three.
Bernie Mac, as the obnoxious father who plays all of the race cards at a honky’s expense, is supposed to be successful, privileged, affluent and upscale. So why does he talk like Amos and Andy? When he insists on sleeping every night in the same bed with Simon to make sure his daughter sleeps alone, the movie gives both men an opportunity to cuddle in a number of insulting positions no house guest would tolerate, and it becomes obvious that this desperate group of no-talents will do anything for a cheap laugh. Meanwhile, Simon strikes back by amusing the girl’s family with a series of tasteless racial epithets at the dinner table. “What do you call 100 black men buried in the ground up to their heads? Afro-turf.” Yuk, yuk. “How do we know Adam and Eve were not black? Did you ever see anybody try to take a rib away from a black man?” To make a long and plotless story mercifully shorter, we cut to what passes for the dénouement. The parents are about to renew their marriage vows in what appears to be a backyard cookout (would you believe ribs are on the menu?) at which the interracial lovers plan to announce their engagement. After three days of humorless humiliation and vile one-liners, they all break up. How they resolve their differences in time for a happy ending is not remotely convincing. I walked out as they were all dancing the tango to “Whatever Lola Wants.”
Guess Who is supposed to be a movie that takes a big eraser to slurs, intolerance, bigotry, prejudice and stereotypes, but it’s not about much of anything. In fact, it endorses every stupidity it wants to deny. We’ve come a long way since Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. This spin on interracial romance wants to make us color-blind, but I thought we already were. What’s left are sophomoric writing, clueless direction and an overwhelming pointlessness of purpose. Bernie Mac, as the patriarch, is as funny as a knee replacement. Zoe Saldana, as the daughter, and Judith Scott, as her mother, are so polished and realistic they seem to be in a completely different movie. Mr. Kutcher wears more eye makeup than they do. For a sophisticated black family with contemporary values, most of the women look like hos from the ‘hood. I doubt if hack director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (who also helmed the historically valuable and important Barbershop 2) could direct himself to the men’s room without getting lost.
Armed with bad reviews and anything but fabulous, clumsy Sandra Bullock is back in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, an unasked-for sequel to a second-rate farce that was never worth making the first time around the Xerox machine. This misguided mess, lamely written by Marc Lawrence and ineptly directed by John Pasquin, could be chalked up to Ms. Bullock’s unbreakable record of landing in bad-luck vehicles nobody wants to see. But here’s the rub: She keeps producing them herself! Believe it or not, this inane trash is not as bad as Two Weeks’ Notice, but it’s worse than the original Miss Congeniality in 2000. That’s really saying something, and the something I’d like to say is unprintable.
Anyway, here we are with another candidate for the trash bin. If you remember anything about the first loopy installment, Ms. Bullock was a bumbling F.B.I. agent named Gracie Hart who went undercover as a beauty contestant to trap a serial killer who was wreaking havoc on the Miss United States Pageant. In the four years hence (only three weeks in the script), Gracie has become so famous that she gets fan mail, talk-show requests and Godiva chocolates from fans. Unfortunately, the resulting publicity that landed her face on machine guns and icebox magnets has rendered her useless as a field agent. Gone are both her old boyfriend and glamour-girl nemesis (saving Benjamin Bratt and Candace Bergen the embarrassment of making further fools of themselves on camera), but Ernie Hudson does make a brief appearance as her skeptical boss at the agency, who makes her the “New Face of the F.B.I.”
The bliss is short-lived, even though the movie isn’t. While she’s on a P.R. tour dispensing advice to wannabe teenage crime fighters, the bubblehead Miss United States is kidnapped by a gang of thugs in Las Vegas, and Gracie takes on the job of finding her, forcibly accompanied by a butch bodyguard named Fuller (the talented but wasted Regina King, an actor of substance who is clearly slumming). The hostile Agent Fuller has problems with anger management and, in a reversal of roles, slaps Gracie around mercilessly, inflicting pain at every turn. Gracie, on the other hand, suddenly discovers femininity as a secret weapon, eschewing violence for charm. “I don’t like to use my gun-unless it’s self-defense, or a really good sale at Bergdorf’s!” says Gracie, which just about sums up the quality of the jokes. Or how about: “He’s going down like a fat woman on a greased Fireball”? Or: “Remember what Louis Vuitton said-it’s all in the bag.” This unbelievable banter comes from Marc Lawrence, the scriptwriter who penned the first Miss Congeniality, but who seems to have suffered a head wound since then that appears to have left him goo-goo-ga-ga but still on salary.
Gracie may be a liability to the Bureau who looks like a Barbie doll with Botox, but she can still shoot her way out of a hostage crisis. So she dresses up like Big Bird while Agent Fuller reluctantly cranks up the mascara and war paint as Tina Turner. But instead of heading for a showdown at the Paradise Island casino where the daffy beauty queen is being held captive, they make an unexplained beeline for a drag-queen revue, where they stop the show. Regis Philbin, Dolly Parton, William Shatner, Eileen Brennan and Treat Williams are among the real talents making drive-bys, but nobody can infuse much wit into a dead script that arrives smelling like a mausoleum. Tough and sarcastic, Ms. Bullock seems to be making it all up as she goes along. Unfortunately, she comes across as one of those girls who are more fun to know than to watch on the screen.
It had to happen. After becoming Mexico’s first exotic Flavor of the Decade since Dolores Del Rio, Guadalajara’s own Gael García Bernal has gone international. Anxious to avoid typecasting and deluged with offers to satisfy the demands of fan-mag readers in every language, the diminutive hunk with small bones and big boudoir eyes from Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá También, Bad Education and The Motorcycle Diaries is branching out. In the comedy thriller dot the i, his first film in English, he plays Kip, an unemployed Brazilian actor stranded in London, who meets and falls for Carmen (Natalia Verbeke), a Spanish refugee who has been fired from 35 jobs in six months. Carmen is engaged to marry her roommate, an aspiring filmmaker named Barnaby (James D’Arcy). Honoring an old tradition that forces the bride-to-be to plant one last kiss on the lips of a stranger before she surrenders her freedom, Carmen chooses Kip in a crowded restaurant. The hypnotic effect when they lock lips changes their lives forever. Blurry, out-of-focus camera angles and weird music indicate something more is forthcoming.
After marrying Barnaby, Carmen is torn between an English husband who offers security and a Latin lover who offers passion, and for a while dot the i seems like nothing more than just another conventional love triangle, with Carmen dashing around London playing musical beds and wearing as little as possible. This drives both men crazy, until one of them commits suicide and Carmen-who also happens to be a mad flamenco dancer-sweats out her shame and guilt on the dance floor. But wait. This is a virtual-reality experience, and the whole thing has been an elaborate subterfuge staged by Barnaby with the help of Carmen’s Brazilian lover, Kip, for an independent film he’s making without Carmen’s knowledge. Carmen is the butt of the joke. Even the signature on her contract is a carbon copy of her handwriting on the marriage license, with all the i’s dotted. No wonder she’s so angry even the flamenco loses its sting. Another twist and dot the i ends with a premiere, a real murder and Carmen’s ultimate revenge, in which she dots a few i’s of her own. Proving, I guess, that no movie is as shocking and unpredictable as real life. With a more experienced talent commanding the troops, the red herrings in first-time writer-director Matthew Parkhill’s lifeless script might seem less contrived, and with a more experienced cast to support his uncomfortable English-speaking debut, Mr. García Bernal might look less edgy and miserable. This is what happens when talented boys leave home. One hopes that Mr. García Bernal returns to Pedro Almodóvar with his talent undiminished-and not a moment too soon.