In Speed-Dating, three buddies engage in that very analog hookup practice in which singles are paired up according to assigned numbers and have a small amount of time to lure their potential mates into bed. Not that Too Cool (the very hot Wesley Jonathan), Dog (Chico Benymon), and Beaver (Leonard Robinson) are Luddites nostalgic for pre-Craigslist modes of cruising, or that straight folk get the sexual technology memo rather late in the game. The group of friends runs the speed-dating soiree as a scheme so that they can handpick the women allowed to participate and control who gets matched up with who.
This system rigged by men, in which women are passed around as stupid, gullible gifts that just keep on giving and heterosexual sex is always some kind of rape has been poetically depicted in Ian McEwan’s novel On Chesil Beach, and philosophically in Gayle Rubin’s essay “The Traffic in Women.” But here all we get is the naturalization of the grotesquerie of that system (“Women are programmed to say no, even if they like you,” Dog warns us), which is played for laughs.
Speed-Dating is that type of vile cultural product that adds more fuel to a mediascape already saturated with sexism travestied in mere horniness. It’s invested in the same project—excusing heterosexual males’ objectification of women as a commendable and natural necessity—as something like The Hangover or Old School. The filmmakers seem aware of how ghastly heterosexual courtship can be, Beaver saying at one point: “We scheme on women in order for them to feel better about being disrespected.” Yet the film’s sole preoccupation is to reassert the biological imperative that men will be boys, immune to human feeling, perennially erect and made whole by indecent amounts of cash, and that it’s women’s job to sit around looking pretty until men decide to put their Xbox aside and surrender to love.
The film’s most recurrent, and dullest, motif is its barrage of gay jokes, which are mostly projected onto Beaver, the kind of homophobic fantasy that is summoned when homosexual desire isn’t properly sublimated onto homoerotic activity—such as bromances or contact sports. Have straight men not found other creative ways of attesting their sexual identity without reasserting gayness as some kind of invisible time bomb, a sly Sphinx lurking inside, ready to storm out and castrate everybody? Apparently one is safe if he is the first to recognize this sneaky queer demon, which must be why Dog points out Beaver’s supposed gayness every other scene. After Beaver finally goes “gay,” at a club filled with horny gay men ready to eat alive any straight men who dare walk in, he spends the rest of his screen time wearing short shorts, midriff-baring knotted t-shirts, and hosting pool parties. The film can’t even accept its own logic, though, making Beaver realize, post-flaming out and all, that he cannot bring himself to kiss another man and, therefore, wasn’t truly gay all along. How could one be gay, really, with so many beautiful women in the world?
The only thing perhaps scarier than being surprised by the gay monster is, apparently, mistaking a tranny for a real woman—though promptly realizing it before the deed is done. Which happens at least twice in the film. Speed-Dating also elects the physically impaired and little people as the butt of its “jokes.” By the time it tries to find dramatic gravitas, introducing a storyline about an adopted son searching for his birth mother (to the sound of Hallmark-esque piano notes), you don’t know if you barf from the saccharine or from the meta-minstrelsy. While the women for consumption on display come in different shapes, sizes, and races, the local club appears as the only space for sociality for African-American men, who turn taking advantage of women’s bodies and women’s bank accounts (they live off of a rich aunt suffering from Alzheimer’s) into their fulltime job.