A giddy fictive dive into San Francisco's underground rave scene, "Groove" doesn't have much on its mind but a good time. It delivers one, though crustier critics are unlikely to do much raving themselves. While no "Go" in terms of narrative cleverness or complexity, this slick indie ensembler does sport enough of an insiderish air to qualify as hepper than "Thank God It's Friday" on updated recreational drugs.

A giddy fictive dive into San Francisco’s underground rave scene, “Groove” doesn’t have much on its mind but a good time. It delivers one, though crustier critics are unlikely to do much raving themselves. While no “Go” in terms of narrative cleverness or complexity, this slick indie ensembler does sport enough of an insiderish air to qualify as hepper than “Thank God It’s Friday” on updated recreational drugs. Energetic and entertaining, this Sony Classics pickup looks like a good bet for specialized youthful auds at home and in select export situations, especially if extra care is taken to woo the attention of club kids themselves.

After a stylish credit seg that introduces major characters in eye-blink fashion, we meet them again as they prepare for that night’s big secret-location rave. Leyla (Lola Glaudini of “NYPD Blue”) is a new arrival from Gotham who gamely advertises on the Internet for a ride, since she hasn’t yet made any local connections. Hippie-ish Harmony (MacKenzie Firgens) is celebrating her birthday with boyfriend Colin (Denny Kirkwood). Latter insists his bookish brother, David (Hamish Linklater), come along, despite the sib’s apparent aversion to drugs, dancing and humanity in general.

Keeping a cool head among the Ecstasy-unwound partiers is event promoter Ernie (Steve Van Wormer), whose crew has mounted the elaborate setup in an abandoned S.F. warehouse. When a beat cop (Nick Offerman) shows up to sniff around, Ernie pretends the site is space for a new, legal software corporation, duly giving the man in blue an “office tour.”

There is an eventual police bust, but in the meantime variously tattooed, pierced, sartorially and chemically altered protags groove on a series of star deejays’ beats, when not acting out wee human dramas. Among them are a spacey drug dealer and his straight-edge friend’s lame attempts to pick up girls; a more practiced Casanova’s hard-sell maneuvers; a skinhead who invariably shows up at these parties to get obnoxious, then O.D. Running gag follows a gay couple whose planned first anniversary doesn’t go well — they spend the whole night driving around, never quite finding the rave.

Nominal focus is on reluctant attendee David. His initial response to an X dose is terror, then bliss-out, with somewhat hardened case Leyla enlisted for duty as a reassuring trip guide. Before long, of course, this duo is striking romantic sparks.

There’s nothing too profound going on here, with flatter scripted moments clustered toward multi-strand narrative’s last laps. (Pic also has a few too many brief epilogues, though some are quite amusing.) Few surprises emerge: Love conquers most, if not all, passing bummers are massaged, and the beat goes on till daybreak.

A highly commercial-minded effort on an indie budget, “Groove” captures its youthful milieu cunningly enough to avoid the potential for Hollywood trend exploitation. Editor turned first-time feature helmer Greg Harrison keeps things popping via a lively pace, convincing atmosphere and well-turned performances. Standout is N.Y. stage thesp Linklater, whose addled drug reactions are at once hilarious and endearing. (Pic won’t exactly earn kudos from Just Say No types, though it does advise careful usage.) Also noteworthy is real-life house spinner DJ Dmitri, playing Ernie’s more easily rattled right-hand man. He emerges a consistent bright spot in pic’s good-natured, hit-and-miss stabs at droll humor. Special mention must be made of the sweat-soaked dancing hordes. These extras (recruited from local club scene, natch) really look like they’re having fun.

As much party as picture, “Groove” throbs wall-to-wall with the expected gamut of electronic dance music (featuring some 25 artists, several doing turntable duties onscreen). Production design, costumes and lensing all tilt toward Day-Glo psychedelic overload. Tech package makes the most of modest resources, with few rough edges apparent.

Groove

Production

A Sony Pictures Classics release of a 415.com presentation. Produced by Danielle Renfrew, Greg Harrison. Executive producers, Jeff Southard, Michael Bayne. Directed, written by Greg Harrison.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthew Irving; editor, Harrison; music supervisor, Wade Randolph Hampton; production designer, Chris Ferriera; costumes, Kai Hashinoguchi, Elizabeth Rodriguez; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrea Guard; associate producers, Jason Zemlieka, Guard; assistant director, Lynnette Meyers; casting, Maria Ray. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 22, 2000. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Leyla Heydel - Lola Glaudini David Turner - Hamish Linklater Colin Turner - Denny Kirkwood Harmony Stitts - MacKenzie Firgens Beth Anderson - Rachel True Ernie Townsend - Steve Van Wormer Sgt. Channaham - Nick Offerman Cliff Rafferty - Ari Gold Guy - DJ Dmitri DJ John Digweed - Himself
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