Timid Script Stifles Bernie Mac in Race-Reversed Remake


Guess Who

Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan

Columbia, in release

Professionally caustic and often brilliant, comedian Bernie Mac still ain’t got nothing on my pops and his friends. After I brought home a decidedly Nordic-featured lass (being a lighter shade of brown myself), my father—who, to his credit, won’t spare his only son from a well-aimed jab—shared with me what his friend had said after seeing my Nordiquette and me together: “Your boy done went Tiger Woods on you.” I had to smile because, well, that shit was funny, but funny because it hurt a little bit—funny because the hurt bled truth.

In Guess Who, Mac plays Spencer Tracy to Ashton Kutcher’s Sidney Poitier (yeah, I said it), racially inverting Stanley Kramer’s pointed, “pigmentation problem” classic, 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Kutcher is—shock—no Poitier, and his performance as Mac’s prospective son-in-law is largely textureless. But the screenwriters deserve a cowardly lion’s share of the blame. At times no more than a collection of comedic set pieces—Mac and Kutch sharing a bed, listening to “Ebony and Ivory,” or racing go-karts—the film is predictable and its humor is tension free, ultimately hurting only Mac, whose lifeblood is his threateningly melodic cadence and irresistible I-say-what-you-scared-to-say vibe. Mac’s acidic humor is often predicated on a challenge, revealing the truth at the heart of every quip—his goading of Kutcher to tell black jokes over dinner is Guess Who‘s sole piece of genius—and the script’s lack of nerve fails to challenge him or its audience with enough dangerous humor. PETER L’OFFICIAL


Directed by Bille Woodruff

MGM, opens March 30

A morality play paradoxically pimping self-reliance and community, 2002’s Barbershop stresses the importance of its titular location as a haven for free speech. After being chastised for his boneheaded dismissal of Rosa Parks’s achievements, Cedric the Entertainer’s character asks: “If we can’t talk straight in a barbershop, then where can we talk straight?” An extended riff on its progenitor, Beauty Shop also offers opportunities for trenchant observation, though the clientele prefers kinky sex advice to sociopolitical chitchat. Girls just wanna have fun, and so does the film, which recycles the requisite moralizing into a breezy, sporadically funny package. Queen Latifah takes the Ice Cube role, playing a cosmetologist who ditches a ritzy Atlanta salon in order to beautify the ladies DIY-style. Highlights include a drive-by bitching from her former boss and a deus ex machina in the form of a pint-sized booty hound. AKIVA GOTTLIEB


Written and directed by Matthew Parkhill

Summit, opens April 1

Calling Matthew Parkhill’s labyrinthine debut feature a case of bait and switch seems woefully inadequate—bait and immolate would be more like it. Superficially a heart-wrencher in which a soon-to-be-married Spanish siren considers dumping her fiancé after locking lips with an unemployed actor, the film begins innocuously enough, a drab indie three-hander decked out with “edgy” formal flourishes (abrupt shifts to video, Lynchian soundtrack hums) to compensate for its lack of heat. But Parkhill, far too eager to wow them in the end, has crafted a twist-is-everything scenario, evincing a sub-Mamet level of concern for plot holes or audience satisfaction. Given dot the i ‘s ultimate subject, The Bachelorette would have been a better title, but the movie finally undermines all pretensions of satire with its geeky eagerness to subvert expectations. At the close, a filmmaker character snags an award for ingenuity. The title’s “i” might well stand for illusions. BEN KENIGSBERG


Directed by Lee Friedlander

Wolfe, opens April 1, Quad

Tedious narcissists Robin Greenspan and Lacie Harmon star as themselves in this adaptation of their play Real Girls—which recounts how the two drama queens met and fell in love. “We were friends from doing stand-up comedy,” Greenspan earnestly explains in direct address before a brick wall, trading narrator duties with Harmon. Cast by a fruity director (Dom DeLuise) to star in a sapphic stage show, the gals feel sparks while posing for a topless publicity shot. Greenspan ends her dead-end LTR to set up house with Harmon, who vows to work on her intimacy issues. The she-said, she-said, punctuated by artless flashback, essays lesbian bed death, coming out to Mom, and schoolgirl crushes. Greenspan and Harmon’s paltry song of themselves concludes with five minutes of outtakes, capping the self-love. MELISSA ANDERSON



April 1 through 10, Anthology

Less than a week after a celebration of trippy ’60s intermedia collective USCO, Anthology follows up with a gallery exhibition devoted to the loose tribe of neo-psychedelic op-rock artists who emerged from the Providence music scene of the last decade. Organized by Devin Flynn (of bass-thwomping noise band Pixeltan), the event kicks off with an April Fools’ Day rock show-cum-video screening, and continues for 10 days with Takeshi Murata’s DVD installation of locked-groove loops by various contributors. Staging the event within Anthology’s celluloid-stuffed cinema justly calls attention to the fact that the intensely crafted output of these erstwhile Rhode Islanders consists not only of bone-rocking audio compositions, cute-brut comix, and disturbing knitwear; these post-collegiate collectives have also created some of the raddest avant-garde movies of the Aughties.

Flynn’s line-drawn black-and-white animations pack numerous punches within their tiny time frames; he’ll premiere Catloop, in which the heads of a cat and a bird swirl through a never ending monochrome mandala, curlicuing into eye-bending fractal eddies, punctuated with throbbing strobes and swooping synth gurgles. Ara Peterson (of the defunct Forcefield crew) contributes Treetops, an undulating checkerboard that twists and morphs into a liquefied Bridget Reilly painting, intercut with flashes of kaleidoscopic color; the whole is set to a Black Dice track of the same name. Ben Jones, Jacob Ciocci, and Jessica Ciocci of Paper Rad will perform in a new configuration dubbed Dr. Doo Man Group. Jones promises (via e-mail) an “all cardboard band” with videos from their recent P-Unit Mixtape, which adds a new level of ominous gangsta bling to Paper Rad’s trademark multi-layered Ritalin-romping kiddie-website montages. It all adds up to a virtuoso vision of art-making as never ending playtime, cut through with a propensity for ego-evaporating death spirals. ED HALTER


Written and directed by Dana Brown

IFC Films, opens April 1, Regal Union Square

The documentary Dust to Glory follows an annual race up and down the Baja peninsula, an event, like professional dodgeball tournaments, better left to ESPN 8, the Ocho. More than 1,200 competitors hit the unpaved desert road to a Survivor-ish soundtrack, piloting everything from unmodified pre-1981 Volkswagen Beetles to high-suspension trucks and dune buggies that negotiate corners with the grace of an inebriated kangaroo.

“This isn’t about a race,” says writer-director Dana Brown, who narrates. “It’s about the race, the human race.” Let’s hope not. The movie is monotonous, storyless, and at under 100 minutes, interminable. The only excitement derives from a rivalry between two Honda-sponsored motorcyclists based on intra-corporate politics. Fitting, since global capitalism is the unnamed subtext of this witless colonial enterprise.

As in his flaccid surf pic Step Into Liquid (2003), Brown stages meetings between the local children and his yahoo protags amid heartwarming product placement. For good measure, the director tosses in empty compliments to the landscape (“it’s an emotion, that’s what Baja is, something you feel”). But Dust to Glory‘s Mexico is nothing more than a blank canvas for advertising and American machismo. BENJAMIN STRONG