Thursday, September 30, 2010

SPEED-DATING opens, making one grieve for the Black experience -- on film, at least

To go from posting about The Social Network to the likes of SPEED-DATING is to topple from the sublime to the sub-ridiculous, such a stupid and offensive film this is. Telling the story of three bozos -- Leonard Robinson (below, left), Chico Benymon (below, center) and Wesley Jonathan (below, right) -- who set up a "speed-dating" service (three minutes per getting-to-know-you coupling before the pair moves separately on), the film is almost unbelievably crass and unfunny. It goes for the most obvious situations, performances, writing and direction, while its uneven tone veers from all-out, slapstick farce (none of the cast is remotely up to the task of rendering this: good farce takes talent and planning) to sappy adoptee-searching-for-his-birth-mom nonsense that insults its subject mightily.

But then Speed-Dating insults just about everything it touches, particularly the subject of homosexuality. When will the black community -- its families and its churches -- start accepting its own? Writer/director Joseph A. Elmore Jr. (sorry: couldn't find a photo of him anywhere) tries to have it both ways, handing us a character (played by Mr. Robinson, below) that everyone in the film just knows is gay, sets him up with a possible significant other, has him turn nelly as hell, and then when the mouth-on-mouth time comes around, insists that he seize up and cry, Oooooooh, no -- I told you I was straight! Further insult is provided when a character has the audacity to mutter, "It's OK: You guys can get married and all..." Oh, really?

So homos are out. What about religion?  As a card-carrying atheist (who's also gay), even TrustMovies was appalled at the handling of an utterly stupid scene set in church.  It's unfunny, over-the-top, pointless and poorly done from every aspect.  As for love and romance, these characters all seem to turn on a dime -- from hate to love, back again, sideways, whatever the script's new moment asks for. You want more? A demented auntie in a rest home, discovering that sought-after birth mother, a building inspector named Red Green who has a blue skin condition (god, that's just hilarious, isn't it?), a love interest who's a painter but for some reason is unable to display her work, and ex-girlfriend (white, of course) who's a bitch on wheels: Writing, pacing, even the handling of flashbacks -- they're all embarrassingly done.

All this could be perhaps acceptable if it were handled with some style and savvy.  But the execution is beyond lame. (By comparison, the Wayan Brothers look like Steven Spielberg.) Worse, after a bunch of failed comedy, the movie has the audacity to turn saccharine. Well, of course. Or maybe I just have no appreciation of current black culture. I hope that's not true. If so, we're in a worse state than even I imagined. The single thing the film has going for it is its "look."  From a technical standpoint, it appears to be a higher budget endeavor than you'd expect -- with camerawork, lighting, sound and the rest all very well done.  The cast, too, is attractive and easy on the eye and even, most probably, has talent -- though it is not much on display here.

Speed-Dating opens Friday, Otober 1, in select cities from New York (at the AMC MJ Harlem 9) to Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and Milwaukee -- with Dallas set to follow on October 8.  Click  here and then click on THEATER INFO mid-screen to find specific theaters in those cities.

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