‘It’s All Gone All Pete Tong’ is still the best pisstake of superstar DJ culture
There’s a reason It’s All Gone Pete Tong is considered a must-watch film by many fans of dance music years after its initial release in 2004: it’s a bright, boisterous comedy-drama with a winning sentimental streak. It’s also pretty spot-on with some wicked owns of the industry, layered with clever in-jokes, authentic locations in Ibiza and cameos from real stars like Tiësto, Carl Cox and Mr. Tong himself.
But it’s also frequently muddled and stiff. Between mockumentary-style satire, raunchy slapstick and weepy melodrama, it never quite gets the mood established. This awkwardness frequently makes it seem more dated than it is – especially compared to much sharper films from the same era, including Human Traffic and 24 Hour Party People.
“When he suddenly starts losing his hearing, his life is turned upside down and he’s forced into some agonising self-reflection”
Paul Kaye plays Frankie Wilde, a British superstar DJ who enjoys success at the highest level and lives the hedonistic lifestyle on Ibiza with balls-to-the-wall abandon. He has residencies at Pacha and DC10, lives on the cover of Mixmag, owns a sprawling villa and has a glam Victoria Beckham-like wife. He’s also a laddish jerk who’ll shag anyone, treats everyone like shit and has a cocaine habit that makes Scarface look lightweight.
When he suddenly starts losing his hearing, his life is turned upside down and he’s forced into some agonising self-reflection.
The film’s title is real-life Cockney rhyming slang for “it’s all gone wrong” (Paul Oakenfold is credited with inventing the phrase in the ’80s). Unfortunately the film does indeed go wrong on many occasions.
The style is broad comedy, interlaced with doco interview clips à la This Is Spinal Tap. But it falls short of how incisive and profound that most iconic of music mockumentaries is. Quite often, flat acting or dialogue makes it seem like a weak Saturday Night Live sketch. Curious lapses in the production add to the messiness – Frankie’s tattoo, which is visible for much of the film, even looks fake.
“It’s All Gone doesn’t really do subtle”
A certain amount of wry subtlety is crucial for this kind of satire, but It’s All Gone doesn’t really do subtle. The jokes are in your face. Frankie’s character is so all over the place that for long stretches, especially early on, he’s hard to take, and that’s unfortunate for a film’s protagonist. When he train-wrecks a set during a low point, it turns into a fit of rage so OTT it’s bizarre, especially compared to the wooden acting of the extras in the club. His later nervous breakdown is like an unhinged riff on Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.
Meanwhile Frankie’s drug habit is embodied by a giant snot-nosed badger in a floral-print apron. Yes, a giant badger – it seems intended as a tribute to the rabbit in Donnie Darko, an admirable effort at surrealism, but mostly comes across as a silly pisstake by a guy in a fake-looking animal suit.
Then the humour drains out of the film for much of the second half as Frankie struggles to rehabilitate himself and make a comeback. After a while it gets frustrating how it switches gears between smart and dumb, heartfelt and awkward.
So what works? There are plenty of genuinely funny bits – from Frankie’s efforts to change up his progressive-house style by collaborating with a pair of Austrian metalheads, to the batshit non sequiturs dropped by Frankie’s redfaced, über-crass American manager Max. Max is brilliantly played by Canadian comedian Mike Wilmot, who channels a cross between Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini with deadpan lines like, “It’s like a wasp just stung my clit.”
“[Kaye] is terrific at communicating the fatigue and burnout of the music business”
Despite being saddled with such cartoonish character, Kaye is also really good as Frankie (himself channeling a bit of Tim Roth perhaps). With his hangdog expression and wiry but exhausted body language, he’s terrific at communicating the fatigue and burnout of the music business, especially in the many intense close-ups of his bug-eyed face. At times it’s almost unnerving to watch him punishing himself like he really doesn’t care anymore, as if it were a documentary about a real music career really gone wrong – before it lapses back into clumsy parody.
The takedowns of the music business are probably the best thing about the film. It’s funny how little has changed in 12 years: the antics and excesses it depicts could be ripped from the headlines of inthemix this year – the only thing missing is Twitter beef.
“The Eurotrash, the sordid poolside debauchery, Frankie’s energy-drink sponsorship and his idea to market his own brand of hummus – all of it is on point”
The starfucking circus that is the scene on Ibiza, the fawning dance-music hype machine, the Eurotrash, the sordid poolside debauchery, Frankie’s energy-drink sponsorship and his idea to market his own brand of hummus – all of it is on point. It’s All Gone also features fairly cool visual depictions of what it’s like to DJ – to concentrate on the groove, to cue up a new track and to either gain or lose control of a crowd.
Frankie’s redemption over the second half of the film actually contains quite a few touching moments. At this point It’s All Gone basically turns into a heartfelt, if corny, melodrama about overcoming disability – nice to see in such a setting – with some quieter scenes that work better than the slapstick. It doesn’t always sit well with the parody, but chalk up a few points for it anyway.
Overall It’s All Gone Pete Tong just tries way too hard. It’s a shame the film couldn’t have been the Spinal Tap-like satire that dance music deserves. But as long as you’re not expecting a comic masterpiece, it’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.
Jim Poe is a writer, DJ, and editor based in Sydney. He tweets from @fivegrand1.