First, allow me a few words in defense of "the new guy": the outsider, the initiate, the dork who grounds us in a movie's given subculture, real or imagined. Think Kay in The Godfather or the reporter in Velvet Goldmine: The type is as honorable and utilitarian as the cop-partner killed in the (plot) line of duty. (Well before my City Pages movie has its test screenings, you can bet I'll write in some fresh-scrubbed new staffer, unschooled in deadline fines and "Naked Thursdays.")
I mention this only because Groove, the first American movie to take rave culture as its main subject, flogs the "new guy" conceit with enough unpersuasive zeal to ruin it for everyone else. Don't get me wrong: The world deserves to have feature films for every subgenre--a Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo on every block, I say--and techno is no exception. But even as propaganda, Groove makes Hair look like Clifford Odets. The movie is all strobe-lighted externals, directed by an ex-raver, Greg Harrison, who seems wholly unaware that audiences didn't give a crap whether Saturday Night Fever was inauthentic (i.e., no black gay men in sight). At least Travolta suggested the emotional drear that all-night dancers seek to escape, whereas Groove suggests that a job in a paint store might do its characters some good.
With his Robby Benson gawk, Hamlish Linklater is perfect as the film's central stiff. David is a San Francisco yuppie and rave naif who absorbs so many good vibes from his first night at a party that he pays the morning toll for dozens of cars behind him. (The fact that the tollbooth worker wouldn't pocket the cash shows just how high the director is on his own stash.) Less than 24 hours before this poignant conclusion, David's younger brother convinces him to attend an illegal warehouse bash, which affords us an "Okay, audience, let's break it down for you slowly" tour of rave culture, right through the late-morning poop-out. "If there's one thing you learn tonight," a rave organizer informs David weightily, "I hope it's this: This shit ain't over till the last record spins." Deep, man.
At the warehouse, David takes Ecstasy for the first time, moving past panic into rapture with the help of a seasoned dancing queen (Lola Glaudini) with whom he exchanges a few epiphanies before emerging a reborn child of PLUR (the ravers' blithe acronym for peace, love, unity, and respect). In the meantime, we're treated to hopelessly stilted DJ cameos (John Digweed), subtitles introducing terms such as "The Chill Room" (thanks, guys), and a bitchy gay couple who remember DJ sets like Sixties lovers reminiscing about Hendrix--a good riff ruined with repetition. David's brother (Denny Kirkwood) even strays from a new fiancée to make out with a guy. Certainly, there's fun to be had in this think-later milieu of touchy-feely permissiveness--the world of teddy bears and candy so sensationalized by a recent Dateline drug exposé. But Harrison's idea of fun involves bringing the boyfriend back from the homo abyss.
It's not that I have a snob's nose for Groove's overwhelming unreality--at least the music never conveniently pipes down in advance of dialogue (as it did, hilariously, in Summer of Sam). Besides, rave needs a beginner's movie; every party would die a hard death without some watering down, without the saline infusion of new blood. But Groove racks up nothing but instructional points: Observe, boys and girls, as the DJ flips the cross-fader, rousing the crowd to throw hands. This laughable sequence is apparently shown for no other reason than to demonstrate how DJs work. If this is authenticity, give me ravesploitation--which Go made a go of last year. Harrison has too much of his characters' hug-happy attitude to exploit anyone but us: His film is an iMac commercial for glow-stick chewers.
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