Movie review: 'It's All Gone Pete Tong'

3 stars (out of 4)

Cocaine addiction for superstar deejay Frankie Wilde takes the shape of a giant, nasty-looking muskrat-type thing. It's his drug mascot, a coke-encrusted fiend that beats Frankie into submission whenever he attempts to kick the habit.

"Can't we just be friends?" Frankie asks just before the furry demon throttles him.

Frankie's metaphorical monkey is just one of the slyly simple, visually arresting ploys in "It's All Gone Pete Tong," a mockumentary about the fall and redemption of audio rapscallion Wilde. The king of the Ibiza, Spain, mega-club circuit, Wilde (Paul Kaye) has it all—the model girlfriend, an adopted son, piles of money, plentiful gigs and more Peruvian flake than Tony Montana.

And he's slowly going stone deaf.

"Tong" combines the deadpan delivery of BBC's "The Office" and with the meta-mockumentary approach of Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People." It's less successful than Winterbottom's cheeky masterpiece about brooding Manchester music in the 1980s, mostly because there's no period of grace to fall from in essentially a fall-from-grace/redemption story.

Writer/director Michael Dowse initially paints himself into a corner by asking us to sympathize with a coke-fueled scoundrel humbled by sudden disability. The formula doesn't entirely stick, but Dowse's visual veracity towers over any narrative shortcomings "Tong" presents.

In one sequence, Dowse translates an audio experience into a visual one, capturing how a deejay cues up one record while another is playing. To mark the exact moment when two records mix together live, Dowse merges two split-screen images into one, hitting the downbeat hard as the image solidifies as a single audio/visual frame.

Everywhere else, Dowse prefers to blur the lines, especially between fact and fiction. Though a title card at the beginning of the film reads "based on a true story," a la "Fargo," Wilde is a concoction of pure fiction, despite numerous Web sites that claim the contrary. It is fun, however, to see real high-profile European deejays such as Carl Cox and Barry Ashworth proclaim Wilde's genius.

And then there's the title.

The phrase "It's All Gone Pete Tong," according to the movie's press kit, is a "a Cockney rhyming slang that plays off the name of superstar deejay Pete Tong." It means, "it's all gone wrong." Tong is a real person, sort of the Casey Kasem of BBC radio, a powerful pop-music tastemaker and founder of the ffrr label, which turned out records by Orbital, Goldie and Salt-N-Pepa. Tong also serves as executive producer of the movie, a bold move to reclaim and embrace what has essentially become derogatory slang for cheesy dance music (i.e. "It's gotten a bit Pete Tong in here.").

Even though most audiences outside the United Kingdom will be flummoxed by the title, it never hurts having a cult movie named after you. Just ask John Malkovich.

relder@tribune.com"It's All Gone Pete Tong"

Written and directed by Michael Dowse; photographed by Balazs Bolygo; production design by Paul Burns; music by Graham Massey; edited by Stuart Gazzard; produced by Allan Niblo and James Richardson. A Matson Films release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:28. MPAA rating: R (or pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, language and some sexual content/nudity).

Frankie - Paul Kaye

Max - Mike Wilmot

Penelope - Beatriz Batarda

Sonya - Kate Magowan

Jack - Neil Maskell

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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