Grade: C

Regular participants in the rave scene, or those interested in
studying the phenomenon from a sociological perspective, may
well find “Groove,” Greg Harrison’s debut feature, pleasurable
or enlightening. Others of us, while appreciating the dexterity
with which the young writer-director has captured the atmosphere
of the San Francisco underground dance milieu, will nonetheless
find the drama that he’s chosen to portray within it to be
considerably less intriguing.

The picture aims, quite simply, to depict the shape, tone and
general feel of the rave experience by combining elements that
are nearly documentary in presentation with others that, while
perhaps based on fact, are clearly script contrivances. The
former aspect involves showing us how a secretive underground
bash is planned and organized, and then presenting a succession
of DJs–all of them real rave participants–who offer “sets”
involving different types of music and effectively controlling
the pace of the party and the mood of the crowd by the choice
and juxtaposition of material. This almost clinically-
observed part of the project is very nicely rendered, giving
a genuine taste of how collaborative a venture a rave is and
how the promoters, DJs and dancers work off one another to
produce an event with a spirit, tempo and shape of its own. By
the time that the last DJ, a well-known, almost mythic figure
named John Digweed, shows up to offer a final set and we see
the crowd maniacally caught up in a a kind of ectasty as the
music pulses, a viewer can easily feel at least a bit of the
excitement involved in the event.

Unfortunately, to make the piece a conventional narrative
Harrison has devised a series of mini-dramas which he inserts,
in intercut fashion, within the overall structure of the rave,
and it’s here that his effort fizzles. Simply put, the
various characters aren’t sufficiently compelling to engage
our interest for long: it’s hardly surprising that David
(Hamish Linklater), a straightlaced guy reluctantly dragged
to the party by his brother Colin (Denny Kirkwood) to celebrate
the birthday of Colin’s girlfriend Harmony (Mackenzie Figgins),
should find pleasure (only partially drug-induced) and incipient
romance with free-wheeling New York transplant Leyla (Lola
Glaudini); nor does it shock us that before the night’s out
Colin and Harmony should experience some rough patches in their
relationship. The four young performers seem able enough, but
the characterizations are sketchy, and they can’t overcome the
formulaic situations in which they’re placed or the mostly
functional dialogue they’ve been given.

If this central quartet lacks fire, most of the secondary
figures are drawn equally feebly. (A particularly lame
sidebar involves our watching a gay couple celebrating their
anniversary in a futile search for the site of the party.)
The only spark in this respect is provided by Steve Van Wormer,
playing promoter Ernie, and his sidekick Guy (portrayed by DJ
Dmitri), whose attempts to divert the attention of a suspicious
cop (Nick Offerman) are sporadically amusing.

The end result is that while “Groove” succeeds in capturing
some of the urgency of the rave itself, the picture’s energy is
periodically sapped as its interlocked characters engage in
desultory recitations concerning their lives and hopes, not
unlike a slightly older but more pallid version of the kind
of dialogue the highschool students in John Hughes’ early
pictures spouted. (As in “The Breakfast Club,” it even takes
the intervention of a drug, in this case Ecstasy, to loosen
people up so they reveal the truth.) And while the picture is
decently put together, it doesn’t exhibit anywhere near the
visual panache and virtuoso technique of Justin Kerrigan’s
“Human Traffic,” which portrays, in a far more cinematically
vigorous way, a weekend of club partying by four Cardiff
friends, who are delineated with greater skill (and provided
with far more amusing dialogue) than the stick figures on
display here.

So while those involved in the American rave scene will
probably enjoy “Groove” as a souvenir of their own experience,
others may view the picture in a less charitable light despite
its success in capturing the flavor of the event, and find the
technical vivacity of Kerrigan’s film more arresting.