[Screen It]

(2000) (Hamish Linklater, Lola Glaudini) (R)

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Drama: Various young adults attend a large, one-night party and discover new things about themselves.
It's Friday night in San Francisco and Ernie Townsend (STEVE VAN WORMER) is planning a guerilla-style rave party in an abandoned warehouse. When New York transplant Leyla Heydel (LOLA GLAUDINI) sends out a request over the Internet for a ride to the party, word quickly spreads about the impromptu get-together.

Among those attending are Colin Turner (DENNY KIRKWOOD) and his girlfriend Harmony Stitts (MACKENZIE FIRGENS). Colin has a surprise in store for Harmony and wants his brother, David (HAMISH LINKLATER), to hit the party with them. An aspiring writer whose career has so far been limited to writing computer manuals, David, a natural loner, is reluctant to go as he's never attended a rave, but his brother eventually convinces him.

As Ernie and his crew get the rave started, he must contend with a variety of conditions and complications, including hearty partygoers fueled by Ecstasy and other drugs supplied by Cliff Rafferty (ARI GOLD), as well as worries about the police showing up and shutting down their party.

When Colin proposes to Harmony at the party and David eventually takes his first hit of Ecstasy, things seem to be going well, especially when the latter meets and immediately falls for Leyla. With the night wearing on and after a run-in with a police sergeant (NICK OFFERMAN), the partygoers get down to the sounds of various legendary DJs - such as DJ John Digweed (JOHN DIGWEED) - while various attendees, including David, Leyla, and others, try to make sense of their young lives and the surprising revelations that occur as the dawn approaches.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Although one's interest in parties seems the strongest while in their teens and twenties, most people enjoy attending such get-togethers and a fair number of people seem to get a kick out of throwing them. Of course, doing the latter is more work than the former, what with the planning and arranging, cooking and inviting everyone far enough in advance to give them enough notice.

Then again, one could just throw a rave, one of those impromptu, guerrilla-style parties that seemingly pop up without much notice or planning. The bane of police officers and concerned parents, such parties are wildly popular among the young crowds and are usually fueled by loud, techno-pop music and plenty of mind-altering substances, the most popular being Ecstasy.

Obviously, such a scene and/or the underlying social phenomenon could be an interesting backdrop or main focus for a film to use in telling a story. Unfortunately, like the vinyl still preferred by many of the deejays who appear in "Groove," this film is akin to the one singular furrow found on that music format that's all but been driven extinct by cassettes and then CDs.

As such, the plot, much like the stylus of any old turntable, can't escape that groove, its unwavering depth, and the fact that it doesn't do anything but go around and around, seemingly never getting anywhere. Unfolding in a chronological fashion through one night of prepping for the rave, to the event itself, and then closing during the morning after, the film features plenty of blaring and thumping techno-pop tunes, but not much else. Just as Sonny and Cher once sang, the beat goes on (and on and on), but beyond providing the rhythm for the flailing dancers, not much else is offered.

While the press kit equates this film as the new millennium's version of "American Graffiti," it's a weak version of that classic film at best. Yes, both feature a large cast of young characters trying to find themselves, and music is a key element and backdrop for the story. Yet, where George Lucas' film perfectly captured a nostalgic time/era, featured a collection of well-developed characters (not to mention a tremendous cast), and credibly portrayed the angst of the characters as their lives were changing, this film - no matter its stated intentions - isn't much more than a story about a bunch of young people partying.

Not surprisingly, we're treated to plenty of scenes of people dancing and doing drugs, while the various deejays participate in something resembling a tag-team performance where one replaces another at certain intervals (as if spinning vinyl is as arduous as performing live music). Unfortunately, the audience is never pulled into the proceedings, and thus passively sits (other than some possible toe-tapping) and watches it without caring about the characters or their various plights and/or desires.

Since he assumes many roles behind the camera, much of that fault lies directly with writer, director and editor Greg Harrison (who makes his feature film debut after holding various related jobs in the entertainment business). While I'll assume that he's captured the technical side of the rave scene rather well, most of his characters within it aren't delineated enough to allow us to identify them properly, let alone become involved in their lives.

Among the large cast, only newcomer Hamish Linklater (a theater performer) and Lola Glaudini ("Your Friends and Neighbors," TV's "NYPD Blue") make much of an impression, and that's mainly due to them getting the most time on the big screen. While we're presumably supposed to feel for their characters and be drawn into rooting for a potential romance between the two, the flat way in which they and the story develop pretty much prohibits that from happening.

Denny Kirkwood ("Never Been Kissed," various TV shows), Mackenzie Firgens (making her debut), Steve Van Wormer ("Idle Hands," "Jingle All The Way") and Ari Gold (various short films) appear as the protagonist's brother, that character's girlfriend, the rave organizer and the local drug dealer respectively, but none of them make much of an impression beyond what could best be described as fleeting.

Meanwhile, a number of "renowned" (at least in the rave/techno pop world) deejays appear, with the last one, DJ John Digweed, being treated like a god of sorts. Despite that and the fact that each is identified with an onscreen title when they appear in the film, none of them make any sort of impression on the viewer or demonstrate why they're treated as such by those familiar with them and their work. All we really see is the crowd (made up of any many real "ravers" as extras) positively reacting to each deejay, but that seems to happen only because each subsequent record-spinner plays their mix a little louder than their associates preceding them.

As far as the film's biggest asset - the near non-stop techno pop soundtrack - those who favor such music will probably enjoy the proceedings. The rest of us, however, while giving the old American Bandstand answer that it has a good beat that can be danced to, probably won't be able to differentiate one song from the next.

Perhaps that's the point, but as a film the overall proceedings aren't that compelling if you're not into that scene. Lacking much of a story save for some unconvincing plot developments that feel contrived, forced and present only to provide some drama, and a passel of characters that never connect with the audience, this film may have been better suited, and subsequently had better results, as a documentary about the rave scene. As it stands as a dramatic work, it may have the right beat, but it's lacking the corresponding heart and brains to make it worthwhile. "Groove" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed May 9, 2000 / Posted June 30, 2000

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