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Friday, Aug. 11, 2000


No rules, no limits and no saying 'no'

The Great Defining Moment of Generation Xstacy may never make it to the big screen -- especially at this late stage -- but taking a decent stab at it is U.K. director Justin Kerrigan with his debut feature "Human Traffic," a silly, irreverent comedy, loaded to the gills on the manic, luvved-up vibe of the rave subculture.

At first glance, this resembles yet another one of those terminally hip, MTV-damaged, Brit-poop youth flicks that have proliferated since the success of "Trainspotting," dreck like "Twin Town" or "Shooting Fish." "Human Traffic" does indeed stoop as low for laughs, and sports a hyperactive visual style that almost makes "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" look sober, but Kerrigan also loads the film with closely observed detail.

That's key to any decent comedy, and even more so for subculture films, which truly require an insider's perspective. Getting the details right is what worked for films as diverse as "Quadrophenia," "Rude Boy" and "Spinal Tap," and I'm pleased to say that "Human Traffic" looks as if it was made by a club-rat who wouldn't mistake a Carl Craig 12-inch for Carl Cox, never mind, ahem, a Mitsubishi for a Mercedes. Anyone who's clever enough to note, as Kerrigan's film does, that the most unhappy, antisocial people at a party are the ones griping about how "the vibe's not like it used to be," certainly knows his clubbers.

Set in Cardiff, Wales, the film follows a motley group of club fiends over the course of 48 hours, with the moment of impact being Saturday night. The plot is fairly amorphous -- more a series of vignettes, actually -- but at the center is an ultra-genki clubber named Jip (John Simm). He's having a bit of a problem with "Mr. Floppy," unable to perform in bed, even with the dancing queen of his dreams. Blame the drugs, or perhaps "sexual paranoia," but it's getting the poor boy down.

His club-pal Lulu (Lorraine Pilkington), a "full-on club minx" herself, also has the blues, but in her case it's man trouble. As her friend Nina (Nicola Reynolds) so charitably puts it, "It's not you Lu; you're just an a**hole magnet." Jip's buddy Koop (Shaun Parkes), a vinyl pusher -- i.e., record-store clerk -- peddling hip hop to the wannabe homeboys, is also bummed-out. He's paranoid about his girlfriend Nina, and gets upset every time he sees her talking to another guy.

Anyway, the weekend approaches, and the obvious solution to their collective blues is some E and a good party. But where to score the tickets and disco biscuits? The weekend rituals begin with the hunt, climax with a massive ingestion of controlled substances and serious grooves, and end with the bleary morning after, where "all you can look forward to is unconsciousness, but you can never sleep."

"Human Traffic" starts full on with ludicrous jokes, tweaked-out performances, speedy cutting and wide-angle distorto madness, and doesn't let up. The effect is kind of like walking into a club before you've had even a beer, only to find that everyone's off their faces -- a bit disorienting. As such, it might take a while to catch up with the film's vibe, but once you do, the humor starts to fly. Particularly choice is a bit where Lu and Nina get interviewed by a member of the media looking for a scare story on raves: When asked if they take ecstacy, Lulu replies, mock-seriously, "No, we take heroin now; we didn't used to though, till we saw 'Trainspotting.' "

The film's attempt to bring depth to the characters (Jip's mom is a prostitute, hence his problems in bed, while Koop's dad is in a mental hospital) don't jibe with the overall zany tone. It does highlight a relevant point, though, that in the alienated, isolated hell of "normal" urban existence these days, with the maddening contradiction of being surrounded by people and able to have meaningful contact with next to none of them, it takes a fistful of chemical enhancement and trance-inducing beats for those invisible barriers to melt.

One of the things that the film captures quite well is the little tribes and close-knit networks of friends that arise out of raving, and, in many cases, flourish well beyond them. Clubbing gives us all a chance to forget our 9-to-5 drudgery, and, for one night at least, to live as glamorous idealized versions of ourselves: As Jip puts it, "We're thinking clearly, but not thinking at all -- and it feels right. We forget all the pain and insecurity of life and go somewhere else. We risk sanity for moments of temporary enlightenment." This largely echoes the spirit that fueled "Saturday Night Fever" two generations ago, but with a greater degree of self-awareness.

Ironically, "Human Traffic" may be just in time to proclaim "long live the rave" as the culture dies a slow and lingering death at the hands of commercialism. Ridiculously overpaid celebrity DJs like Pete Tong, who compiled the "Human Traffic" soundtrack, mark the reassertion of money and advertising's control over what was a truly independent phenomena. Proof of techno's imminent demise comes with the soundtrack of "Gone in 60 Seconds," the next Jerry Bruckheimer McAction flick, opening in September. When "electronica" (such as Crystal Method, Chemical Brothers and Moby) becomes BGM for car chases, it's time to start writing the obituaries.

"Human Traffic" opens Aug. 12 at Cine Milano in Shinjuku.

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