I'm no expert on the scene: I appreciate how a rhythmic thud-thud-thud can set pulses racing, but the finer distinctions of rave, techno and house music escape me. Fortunately, you don't have to know the meaning of "turntablism" to dig Pete Tong's grooves and laugh at its jokes.
More of an exercise in sensory stimulation than a story with deep insights, It's All Gone Pete Tong offers a surprisingly fresh way to think about disabilities. The dance milieu mostly just provides the backbeat.
The film's introductory montage features actual famous DJs paying homage to a fictional one, Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye). Frankie found his calling in the thrumming club scene of Ibiza, Spain, which looks like a sun-drenched party destination comparable to Cancun, only European and tonier. The brash young Cockney becomes a producer, musician and veritable messiah of turntables. Frankie even starts one set by swooping down on wires, wearing a crown of thorns.
At first, Pete Tong simply provides a cheerful spoof of music industry excess, following the beat of Spinal Tap's exploding drummers. When Frankie hits it big, he contemplates marketing his own line of hummus. In the recording studio, he tries to restrain two Austrian musicians whose delusions of rock-godhood rival Tenacious D. In his first music video, he hilariously hunts a bikini-clad model (Kate Magowan). She eventually becomes his wife, although they both freely cheat on each other.
But when Pete Tong shows amplifiers being turned up to 11, they're testing Frankie's hearing, not cranking up his tunes. After a lengthy period of ringing ears and misheard conversations, Frankie learns that he's going permanently deaf and witnesses the mercenary sides of showbiz and marriage. "I've made harder decisions than dropping the deaf DJ," shrugs a label executive.
Vaguely resembling The Pogues' Shane MacGowan, Kaye's face proves ideal for both comedy and pathos. With his big nose and scraggly teeth, he conveys the authenticity of real music stars who are made of raw talent, not training or glamour. He's amusingly dim when he wallows in hedonism, his coked-out pupils reducing to pin-points. But when Frankie loses all he loves, he captures the confused aspect of a wounded animal who doesn't know where the pain's coming from. Writer/director Michael Dowse labors a little too hard to make Pete Tong an instant cult film, imposing some obtrusive flights of imagination. Frankie frequently wrestles with a recurring vision of his coke habit embodied as a demon in a cheap badger costume and a frilly apron. Whereas "Behind the Music" reveals the actual downside of drugs and bankruptcy in the pop business, Pete Tong's treatment of similar material seems more familiar than fanciful.
As it evolves, the film proves it has less in common with 24 Hour Party People than Children of a Lesser God. Dowse messes with the soundtrack levels to replicate deafness: We can hear everything but spoken words when Frankie's sign language instructor (Beatriz Batarda) teaches him to read lips. Frankie discovers that his other senses can detect rhythms that he could only hear before, from watching the lights of dancing sound levels to feeling basslines through his feet. Frankie's case serves as both an extreme example and an illuminating symbol of how the disabled can find a new perspective on life.
For a film set in the transcontinental club scene, It's All Gone Pete Tong proves catchy and accessible - it doesn't want to leave anyone outside, looking in. Only the title requires special explanation. Though Pete Tong is a real celebrity DJ (with a brief on-camera cameo and a producer's credit), the phrase "It's all gone Pete Tong" derives from Cockney rhyming slang for "It's all gone wrong." Apart from the too-clever title, however, Pete Tong gets nearly everything right.
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