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It's All Gone Pete Tong   B

Matson Films / Vertigo Films

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Dowse
Writer: Michael Dowse
Cast: Paul Kaye, Beatriz Batarda, Kate Magowan, Mike Wilmot, Neil Maskell, Monica Maja, Pete Tong, Ron Lloy Hugh Elliston.

Review by Rob Vaux

On the surface, It's All Gone Pete Tong is no different from a thousand VH1 Behind the Music specials. It charts a wearily familiar course of rocket-to-the-moon success imploding under drugs and alcohol and redeemed by the sad wisdom of experience. Pete Tong even lags behind the pack a little bit because its subject is fictitious, rather than some real rock heartthrob whose circumstances might be less contrived. It makes up the distance, however -- and indeed, gives the formula a few unexpected jolts -- in two areas. Firstly, it focuses on a DJ, a noticeably underutilized corner of the music world that Pete Tong embraces as its own. Secondly, this particular DJ's undoing comes not from the booze or the pills, but from a wholly unanticipated direction.

The choice of lead actor is astute, and plays a huge role in the success that follows. As cockney spin-prince of the Iberian club scene, Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) is the debaucherous oaf Keith Richards wishes he could have been. He staggers from gig to gig in a coke-fueled haze of narcissism and adulation, taking brief non-respites in his posh villa with his Queen of Tarts wife (Kate Magowan). He's a walking disaster area, but he knows how to mix the jam, a fact that excuses a multitude of sins. Kaye's performance is often nonverbal, capturing both the rush of controlling the mood and rhythm of huge crowds each night, and the stumblebum incoherence that marks the rest of his life. It's also hugely funny, and indeed could have become unduly broad had Kaye not tinged it with a few anchoring tethers of humanity.

Wilde is clearly due for a crash, a fact that Pete Tong emphasizes by starting us in the throes of his success, rather than his early rise from obscurity. The surprise is how the crash comes: a rather understandable consequence of melting your eardrums night after night. After all those years plugged into the decks (and with the help of an undiagnosed birth disorder), Frankie goes deaf. And when he can't hear, he can't mix -- yanking away the one genuine talent that held his life together and sending him into free fall. At first, he denies the condition, with expectedly disastrous (and deftly comic) results. By the time he comes to grips with it, his family and colleagues have abandoned him, leaving him alone in his palatial estate with a mountain of coke and a giant hallucinogenic badger who makes sure he takes it.

Frankie's loss of hearing is both plausible and realistically presented, contrasting with the pop fizziness of the remainder of the film. Director Michael Dowse plays the condition straight, yet he doesn't gloss it with unnecessary sentiment either. The results form a strong core that the rest of the film can bounce off of, allowing the satirical elements to flourish without reducing them to mindless farce. Pete Tong has fun letting the air out of the club scene's tires, but the surprising pain of Kaye's performance gives it a more poignant undercurrent. When Frankie emerges from his dark night of the soul, intent on making it again as a DJ, his heartfelt ambition never contrasts with the film's more iconoclastic tone.

To this, Pete Tong adds a terrific oversaturated look, full of drenched pastels that evoke both the Spanish landscape and Wilde's own frazzled mindset. When the breathless pace of the first half gives way to calmer moments, the mise-en-scène adjusts without sacrificing its initial boldness. The same holds true for its rise-fall-rise-again plot formula, a structure it embraces without succumbing to the clichéd or predictable. If It's All Gone Pete Tong reaches too easily for what we've seen before, its presentation and sheer verve always find new ways to surprise us. Bright, noisy, and surprisingly fulfilling, it keeps its adrenaline rush under deceptively easy control -- a trick that even the best partygoer would be hard-pressed to top.

Review published 09.20.2005.

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