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DJ mockumentary switches up beats

Michael Dowse's 'It's All Gone Pete Tong' becomes more than just 'Spinal Tap' for ravers.

April 29, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Unless you're well versed in dance music or contemporary British slang, the film "It's All Gone Pete Tong" bears one of those curious titles that makes perfect sense only once you've seen the movie. Playing off the name of the influential DJ, it's a cockney rhyming expression that means "it's all gone wrong."

And wrong it goes for the subject of the movie -- the fictitious DJ Frankie Wilde -- whose senses-obliterating ride atop the world of dance music comes to a crash-and-burn halt after he goes completely deaf. Written and directed by the talented Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse, the movie spins the tale in the form of a loose mockumentary but manages to transcend that limiting subgenre through the creative and hyper-sensual way it records Frankie's rise from the ashes.

The film begins as a sort of "Son of Spinal Tap, Rave Edition," setting up the mystery of whatever became of the enfant terrible, then flashes back one year to a time when the DJ was riding high. Sitting atop his disco fiefdom like a mangy soccer hooligan who's won the lotto, Frankie plows through mountains of cocaine and guzzles oceans of alcohol as he scratches and mixes his way to fame and fortune. Denizens of the scene, real life DJs such as Tong and Paul Van Dyk appear, attesting to Wilde's stature and pondering rumors of his demise.

Most rock stars are pikers compared with Frankie when it comes to partying, and Dowse manages to take drug use to new and disgusting lows. Frankie's acerbic manager, Max (a fine Mike Wilmot), and wife, Sonya (Kate Magowan), eager to keep the gravy train rolling, are nearly as oblivious as he is as the symptoms of his deafness pile up.

Unfortunately, more than half the film is spent skewering the Euro dance scene and Frankie's long painful descent following his hearing loss. Despite the beautiful beaches and vast, pulsing clubs of Ibiza, Spain, where most of the bacchanal takes place, and the soundtrack's lively music, the film doesn't really begin to get interesting until Frankie completely bottoms out and is forced to face his demons.

A strange and surreal sequence involving Frankie's emergence from his substance stupor signals a surprising, vinyl-screeching turn that takes the film into a more gratifying, if conventional, narrative direction. Abandoned by his family and hangers-on, Frankie scrambles to regain his life and, in a sequence notable for its exploration of the sheer sensuality of sound and touch, learns to "hear" again.

Dowse has the senses working overtime as he skillfully guides the film into sweet, inspired territory. Grounded by a gutsy, over-the-edge-and-back performance by Paul Kaye as Frankie, "It's All Gone Pete Tong" takes the long way around before finally redeeming itself.


'It's All Gone Pete Tong'

MPAA rating: R for pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, language and some sexual content and nudity

Times guidelines: Proudly vulgar

A Matson Films release. Writer-director Michael Dowse. Producers Allan Niblo, James Richardson. Executive producers Pete Tong, Rupert Preston. Director of photography Balasz Bolygo. Editor Stuart Gazzard. Costume designer Ita Murray. Music Graham Massey. Production designer Paul Burns. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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