It's All Gone Pete Tong

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/20/05 14:41:09

"Ladies and gentlemen, meet Paul Kaye."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It’s a movie like “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” that reminds me how hopelessly uncool I must be. I had no clue who Pete Tong is (he’s a British radio personality). I had to do some research to find out that the title is Cockney slang (meaning “it’s all gone wrong”). I was actually duped into thinking that there was a DJ named Frankie Wilde (because I’m obviously so ragingly unhip that I realize that there are many, many internationally famous dance/rave DJs in the world, and I don’t know who any of them are, so surely Frankie Wilde must be one of them).

Turns out that the film’s pseudo-documentary style was more than just a storytelling gimmick. Watching, I admit to thinking that writer/director Michael Dowse was presenting his actors in the occasional interview format just for show, but the story behind it all was real. Alas, it is not the case - the whole thing’s fiction, the interviews added merely to help sell the idea of it being a true story.

Yikes, I’m so dreadfully uncool. I’m sorry.

Anyway. “Pete Tong” convincingly plays itself out as a biopic, following the rise and fall (and, of course, rise again) of Frankie Wilde, played by Paul Kaye in a fit of bravado that’s so compelling in its ups and downs that the character begins to feel so very real. Here is a man smothered by success - his fame has brought him a non-stop party lifestyle, a gorgeous model wife, and all the drugs he can possibly ingest. He has found a kingdom of sorts in Ibeza, that haven of the non-stop party lifestyle.

But there is a catch. It seems he was born with a defect in his ears, making him vulnerable to hearing loss; years of too-loud music, taken day and night, pushes this into action. Frankie hopes to both deny his impending deafness and hide it, which only makes things worse. Of course, it’s only so long that you can pass off your lack of hearing as simply being a coked-out party monster who’s just not paying attention during interviews. And that’s when things go, as my newly-learned slang would say, Pete Tong.

The film is broken into three acts: Frankie’s slow downfall; his hitting rock bottom; and his slow return from the ashes. It’s a structure that suggests sappy inspirational biography, but while this story can be seen as inspirational, it’s not one bit sappy. It is, instead, overflowing with a bleak, vicious humor - throughout, Frankie must confront a giant weasel/raccoon/monster/thingy that appears during his drug hazes - and even the later scenes, which contain glorious moments of revelation as Frankie discovers how he can DJ again, come at us with middle finger fully extended.

At the center of all this is Kaye’s flat-out brilliant performance. The comic actor manages to string together humor, despair, insanity, and deep tragedy with seamlessness, his raw energy pouring into the character and delivering an endlessly watchable figure. There’s not a moment in this movie where Kaye seems to be acting; even in the story’s crazier, over-the-top moments, Kaye keeps pushing everything in the right direction. He ensures that no matter how loony things get, we’re never laughing at Frankie. We only laugh with him, in that dark gallows humor that his character would most certainly appreciate.

In crafting such a complex, engaging character, Dowse also manages to create a seething indictment of the entertainment industry. The shallowness is put on display, with Frankie’s manager (Mike Wilmot) being a slimy opportunist that approaches caricature but never crosses it. “Pete Tong” is an angry film, but one that keeps such anger in line.

But then, it’s a happy kind of angry, the kind that realizes it’s better to laugh than to scream. And so “Pete Tong” becomes a wicked little film, a punked-out version of the traditional biopic. It finds humor in the most inopportune moments, and it does so unabashedly. “Pete Tong” is a work so emotionally involving, both in its humor and its sadness, that I didn’t mind being duped for one bit.

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