Let’s get one thing absolutely straight. Well, maybe two things. Number one, I know about as much about dance music as I do Caravaggio. That is to say, I am an admirer but no aficionado.
And B, I like Zac Efron and rate him as a movie star.
It’s important we get that out of the way. Because when this film was released a couple of years back it seems a lot of folk couldn’t get past their bias. It scored poorly with critics and the likes of Rotten Tomatoes. The latter usually has a reliable batting average so I did approach this with caution.
Efron plays Cole Carter, a flat broke dance music enthusiast slumming it in the San Fernando valley, hoping to one day become a world-class DJ. Before he does that, however, he needs to earn enough coin to buy lunch, preferably in the local sushi bar beside the strip club. To earn his pocket money, Cole must work in a fairly exclusive nite club, selling comps like those poor unfortunates you might see in Malaga outside Linekers.
On one of these nights, he meets Sophie( played quite nicely here by Emily Ratajkowski) who quickly dismisses him as part of the help.
Cole learns a quick lesson in the food chain of life but as far this night goes, his journey is only just beginning. Like all great friendships, he ends up meeting a new pal over a high grade joint at the back of the nite club. This well to do friend( James played by Wes Bentley, who is once again enjoying posh skunk after helping Spacey let his freak flag fly in American Beauty) turns out to be a formerly successful dance music DJ himself. James invites him to a high-class party and lets him stay the night on his couch. The next morning he is reacquainted with Sophie who turns out to be James’s girlfriend, because, well, of course she is.
This chance meeting leads to open doors and an opportunity to fulfill his dream. There are ups and downs, ill-advised trips to Vegas and the pursuit of job security at an untrustworthy estate agent. Cole makes mistakes and learns, sometimes the hard way, sometimes in a more enjoyable manner.
If this was Chartbusters you might see this film displayed in a very bright coloured box. And I do mean the box. You know like when you used to get those Disney films and the actual plastic case was red and then they put the inlay card over it? Yeah like that. The box for this would be maybe neon green.
It has some pretensions for sure. The opening titles owe a lot to those surfer movies of the 70s and there is a real effort to make the frames tell the story of a night on amphetamines. In one really superfluous but admittedly pretty cool scene, Cole ends up at a posh house party/ LA art gallery deal and suddenly sees the people around him turn into fluid two-dimensional Adobe illustrator models. If you’re not in the mood you’ll hate it.
But I was in the mood. I wanted my emotions to be manipulated and was willing to be won over quite easily. In a sub two hour film you can go for a lot of things and you can do it with subtlety or with a sledgehammer. This was closer to the latter as we are treated to the rise and fall and rise again of Cole Carter. He deserts his old friends, he betrays new ones, he thinks he’s decent at the music thing, is told he’s not as good as he thinks he is. He works harder and gets better. It is all quite conservative when you list it out like that. So why does it work? Well for one Efron.
I have seen him in a number of films now, either playing a jock, playing soccer, playing a frat house neighbour and playing a Waspish grandson of Robert De Niro with interesting results. He never gives anything less than his all. Once again here, he is totally believable as a working class L.A slacker who has a certain determination to better himself.
Alongside that, to these untrained ears, the music is okay too. It’s unlikely I will add the soundtrack to my iTunes but there are a few numbers that sit quite well with me. I initially found his first main tune, where he explains to Sophie his fascinating theory of 128 bpm being the ideal rate to get a dancer on the buzz, better than the one he actually closes the film on. But after a few more listens the closer won me over.
All in all, it’s a pretty decent way to spend a few hours. The American dream is in there. Being washed down with San Pellegrino albeit, but still there.