The title of this raucous film is supposedly Cockney slang for “It’s all gone wrong,” and the sad fact is that it applies equally well to the execution as to the narrative. “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” has been described as a mockumentary, but it’s really just a fictional comic biography; it’s also been compared to “This Is Spinal Tap,” which is to overvalue it absurdly. The movie is about a dance party (or “rave”) DJ named Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye), who gets deeply involved in the drug-and-excess culture he becomes famous in but finds himself abandoned by wife and friends and suddenly out of work when he goes deaf as a result of constant exposure to the throbbing music. His life changes again when he meets Penelope (Beatrice Batard), who teaches him not only how to live in a soundless world but how to reconnect with music through touch rather than hearing (just think of the famous scene from “Children of a Lesser God” without the Bach). And having triumphed over adversity, Wilde disappears into legend.
Writer-director Michael Dowse certainly gives this little fable of self-destruction and redemption plenty of energy and pizzazz, swinging his camera about wildly in the rave sequences and encouraging the actors, especially Kaye, to resist every inclination to subtlety. The result is a picture that’s bright, even blazing, to look at and loud, even blaring, to listen to. What it isn’t, is very affecting, clever or likable. The main problem is with the character of Wilde, who’s such a drearily sloppy, self-centered and aggressive chap that it’s impossible to have much concern for him, whatever his malady, after the orgy of self-abuse he’s engaged in. The harshness is part of the point, of course, but realizing that doesn’t make the movie any more pleasant to watch. And it certainly dilutes the impact of the last act, when Wilde finds his way back; given what comes before, the “redemption” part of the story seems sentimental, however much Dowse mightn’t want it to be.
“Pete Tong” shares its theme, in a way, with Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending,” about a movie director who goes blind just as he’s beginning a project that could save his career and must stumble through the project by faking it. But though that movie was rather feeble and frail–a divertissement, as it were–its geniality and sweetness eventually carried the day. That’s not the case with this picture, which wants to be tangy but comes off sour instead.
It might just leave you with a bit of a headache, too.