It's All Gone Pete Tong

UK/Canada, 2004. Rated R. 88 minutes.

Cast: Paul Kaye, Mike Wilmot, Beatriz Batarda, Kate Magowan, David Lawrence, Paul J Spence, Neil Maskell. Cameos by Pete Tong, Paul van Dyk, Carl Cox, Lol Hammond.
Writer: Michael Dowse
Original Music: Graham Massey
Cinematography: Balasz Bolygo
Producers: Allan Niblo, James Richardson
Michael Dowse


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

The title? I have no idea what the title means. The film is not about real-life DJ Pete Tong. However, Pete Tong does appear in the film. Here's how the filmmakers explain it: “The phrase 'It's all gone Pete Tong' is Cockney rhyming slang that plays off the name of superstar DJ Pete Tong. It means, 'it's all gone wrong.'”

All righty, then.

It's All Gone Pete Tong is actually about DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye), the greatest record spinner in the world. His orgiastic parties on Ibiza are the stuff of legend. It's all sex, drugs, and drums & bass. Then it goes all wrong, Pete Tong…or whatever. Frankie hits rock bottom, only to make a miraculous recovery and reclaim his mantle. Finally, he mysteriously disappears. Sounds like yet another a variation on every episode of VH1's Behind the Music you've ever seen.

The twist is that Frankie's career goes all wrong because he goes deaf, thanks to an ear defect and prolonged exposure to too many decibels. That's totally deaf. That's a mighty big obstacle to a Behind the Music-style happy ending. As label exec Max Stoddard deadpans, “Generally, the field of music, other than the obvious example, has been dominated by people who can hear.”

Frankie does stage a comeback, though. Writer/director Michael Dowse makes it almost plausible, with a lot of story time devoted to showing how it's possible not only to see sound vibrations on a computer monitor, but also to feel them with your entire body, when played at high volumes. Frankie learns to be in tune with the rhythms of the world around him. Pretty serious stuff, and pretty interesting, too—so interesting that you want to believe it. Here's the thing: writer/director Michael Dowse is pulling your leg. He's jerking your chain. He's having a laugh.

Paul Kaye
Paul Kaye and his hideous teeth portray DJ Frankie Wilde in It's All Gone Pete Tong.

A pretty good laugh, too, at first. The fun opening credits depict the perpetually partying, playfully bizarre rave culture Frankie rules over. These raves are experiences more ephemeral than a Dead concert. It's all about being in the moment. The DJ feels the moment along with the crowd, controlling and transporting the crowd through the music. Illegal mind-altering substances also help.

There's a lot of talking heads in the early going, because it's hard to depict fictional musical brilliance. So, we get admiring interviews from real-life DJs, including Pete Tong, Carl Cox, Lol Hammond, and Paul van Dyk, as well as amusing sound bites from Frankie. His idea of perfection is a flip-flop. “I'm a creative person. I'm an artist. So sometimes I just stare at a flip-flop for hours. I'm not joking.” Flip-flops figure again in the story later.

The movie traces Frankie's early career. A “tosser” named Max (Michael Wilmot) takes Frankie to the next level. Frankie and his horrible teeth grace dozens of magazine covers. He marries a tramp named Sonja (Kate Magowan), but he likes that about her. It's not unusual to find them sharing a quiet night at home together, making out with different people on the same couch.

Then Frankie starts going deaf—a common occupational hazard. His sets go from “shambolic” to disastrous. Frankie's meltdown, portrayed masterfully and hilariously by Paul Kaye and his hideous teeth (which by all rights ought to be eligible for a best supporting actor nod), is the high-point of the film.

Unfortunately, here is where the film stops being funny. Frankie barricades himself in his villa, soundproofing the walls, hoping that rest and total silence will restore his hearing. After a few months of this, it's his sanity that needs restoration. He's stalked by a man in a giant rodent suit (a skunk?), which reminds the audience of Donnie Darko without contributing much to the story. Dowse's other experiments work better, particularly the long stretches of silence as Frankie adjusts to his changed circumstances.

The idea that a deaf man could be a DJ is patently absurd, of course. So why does Dowse go for drama instead of laughs? Perhaps because you're not actually supposed to know that It's All Gone Pete Tong is a joke. The film's marketing never acknowledges that the story is fake. Like The Blair Witch Project, the film depends on people buying into its premise. It works better if you don't know it's a tall tale. Unfortunately, by reading this review (or any other), you now know that it is.

Trying to guess exactly how much Dowse is kidding is kind of fun, though. Does he actually believe a deaf man could do the things Frankie does, or does he think the idea is so ludicrous that the best way to get laughs to by playing it totally straight? If it's the latter (and it probably is), then Dowse has succeeded only in stretching a single joke over ninety minutes, giving us an initially hilarious mockumentary whose sense of humor goes deaf as it wears on.

Review © May 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Matson Films. All Rights Reserved.

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