There’s a sense in which this new movie about a DJ and his three friends living in Los Angeles’ Valley and trying to carve out a place for themselves is like a sub-Entourage story about flagrant wealth and dudebros being alpha 4ssholes (not that I’ve seen Entourage, but that seems to be the gist of it). Except that criticism seems unfair to me. Yes the film deals with some unpleasant male pathologies of entitlement — focused around Wes Bentley’s veteran DJ James, who has the apartment and the lifestyle — but our central character Cole (Zac Efron) and his buddies are very far from the wealth and the glitz, and the film is never less than clear that their lifestyle and aspirations are rather pathetic. That’s not enough to redeem the film — just because it knows these guys are d1cks, doesn’t make it any more fun to watch them — but for me, Zac Efron’s charismatic leading role just about is. Efron is one of the finest actors of the modern era, a smouldering pin-up Disney poster boy originally, but with the ability to infuse even the most wan and underwritten characters with genuine pathos. His inscrutable air seems to lend moral depth where there probably is none, making his Cole here a compulsively watchable protagonist. Still, it’s not quite enough to redeem a film that, even for one such as myself who is not nor ever has been a dance music DJ, seem facile: there’s an over-reliance on on-screen graphics to get us into the mindset of a DJ, all x-ray vision of hearts beating, and text hymning the power of 128 beats-per-minute (even as we learn there are other dance music styles which are slower and faster than this), and when it gets to its core message about finding one’s own voice, emphasising the musical authenticity of sampling real-world sounds and actual musical instruments, it kinda loses me. It also ropes in its female lead and Cole’s love interest, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), for one particularly flat scene where she just has to dance seductively at him while he plies his magical art and mansplains a bunch of stuff that she at least has the acting talent to pretend isn’t really obvious, but the audience surely aren’t so fooled. So yeah, these guys, they’re not my friends, and I remain unclear as to why some of them are anyone’s friends, but the film makes Los Angeles look pretty special, and it proves once again that a poor script and a dudebro mentality is no impediment to the pure expression of Efron’s acting art (not that I’m about to watch That Awkward Moment to bolster my argument).
Director Max Joseph; Writers Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer; Cinematographer Brett Pawlak; Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski; Length 96 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Thursday 27 August 2015.