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‘Made in America’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 28, 1993

A farce founded on a mix-up at a sperm bank, "Made in America" is a simplistic but amiable dip in the nation's multicultural fondue pot. It's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" for the '90s, a politically correct metaphor for ethnic harmony in this land for you and me.

The premise: If a bookish Afrocentrist (Whoopi Goldberg) can love a cretinous cracker (Ted Danson), why can't we all melt into one fabulous all-American cheese? Originally written for an all-white cast, the screenplay was revised to embrace both Goldberg's color and her brand of comedy. The story's probably better for the twist, though it's obviously suffered some from writer Holly Goldberg Sloan's tinkering. Part message movie, part melodrama, part romantic comedy, it remains at heart the story of a young girl in search of a father figure.

Set 18 years after the insemination, the plot is set in motion by Zora (Nia Long), the beautiful teenage daughter of Sarah Mathews (Goldberg). Zora discovers that Sarah's late husband was not her father -- actually he was a "tube about so high," explains Sarah, who knows only that she asked for "the best they had: smart, black, not too tall." More curious than ever now, Zora gains access to the sperm bank's computerized records to learn the identity of the anonymous donor.

To her horror, and her mother's, he's not only a white man, but a hillbilly: Hal Jackson (Danson), a used-car dealer who advertises on late-night TV. Zora, a sweet and charming senior bound for either Berkeley or MIT, visits Hal while he's filming one of his hokey commercials with a hungry bear -- a situation that director Richard Benjamin ("My Favorite Year") milks for hilarity and Danson plays with slapstick ingenuity.

Hal, an overgrown boy with a spacey girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly), makes an awkward start at nurturing. "I've got nothing to offer you except a deal on a used truck," he explains to Zora, who has just poured out her heart to him. Infuriated by his callousness, Sarah shows up shortly thereafter to demand that he stay out of their lives forever. Only it's too late; he's already feeling the twinges of proud paternity. Matters are complicated when, as opposites often do, Hal and Sarah fall in love.

Unfortunately matters soon take a nearly ruinous turn in the slow and maudlin third act, which is saved only because we have had so much fun getting to know these characters so deftly realized by Goldberg and Danson, whose performances are less caricatured than one would expect. They may be the oddest couple since Itchy and Scratchy, but they are also a likable, funny and ultimately endearing pair.

The supporting cast is fine too, with Long, a regular on the soap "Guiding Light," dazzling as the scholarly Zora, and Will Smith, TV's "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," riotous as her lovesick sidekick. Smith's shtick and probably his character are superfluous, but Benjamin sensibly indulges the young comic. Considering the maudlin mood swing that's in store, the audience is going to need all the laughs it can get.

"Made in America" is rated PG-13 for vulgar language, brief nudity, sexual situations and adult themes.

Copyright The Washington Post

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