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There is a brilliant scene in It’s All Gone Pete Tong. Our protagonist is a DJ who has gone deaf, and he’s spent a year going mad on cocaine. He’s turned the corner, though, and at a bar he watches drummers and a flamenco dancer perform. He reaches for his glass of port and he realizes, through the vibrations of the jumping glass, that he can still “hear” through his other senses. Cinematography, sound design, and acting come together to convey without words the most important moment in a person’s life.

It’s hardly the stuff of comedy, though, which is how audiences will be lured into theaters to see Pete Tong. They may not get what they paid for, but I hope they won’t be too disappointed.

Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll

Schizophrenic marketing can't ruin the drama
Schizophrenic marketing can’t ruin the drama

First the title: it’s Cockney rhyming slang for “It’s all gone wrong.” Pete Tong is a British DJ, and he’s also one of the film’s producers.

We get to know Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) through mockumentary interviews with DJs and producers. Wilde is an energetic DJ, a crowd-pleaser who gets out front and dances as often as he stands back behind the crates and stacks.

Wilde has all the trappings of rock-star fame: drug problems, drinking problems, inflated ego, and girl trouble. But the one problem he’s not prepared for is the loss of his hearing. When it gets so bad that he simply can’t continue, he goes to the hospital, defeated. It is a scary, clean place with straight, clean people who seem totally foreign to him. We even catch him crying, in a surprisingly touching scene.

But the hospital can’t cure him. It can barely prolong the inevitable, and Wilde’s life continues to get worse. His wife leaves with their son. The record he was producing is no good. The only bright spot is the loyalty of his friend and manager Max Haggar (Mike Wilmot), whose cell phone headset seems to be surgically attached to his ear, a constant ironic reminder of Frankie’s own condition.

After his year in cocaine hell, Frankie gets help from a Spanish teacher for the deaf named Penelope (Beatriz Batarda). I won’t say more about the plot, although there isn’t much else that happens. Perhaps that’s where the “mock documentary” angle makes the most sense — in the as-it-comes rhythm of life, rather than the setup-conflict-payoff of a typical feature film.

Two Pete Tongs Make an Andy Overnight

It’s All Gone Pete Tong is billed as a comedy and a mockumentary. But the “deaf” plot works better as a drama. And the “mockumentary” aspect is not a coherent style, but an add-on to the plot, like a Greek chorus. So you might say It’s All Gone Pete Tong is a big failure if you measure it by what it sets out to do.

But much is good in the film, starting with the acting. Kaye has the grungy, offbeat energy of Rhys Ifans, but he’s even scragglier. Let’s hope his awful-looking teeth are dental props and not the real thing. Wilmot’s Max is a little over-the-top. He throws himself into the sleazier parts of the role without compromising his humanity and genuine concern for Wilde. And Batarda is so good as Penelope that it would be easy to believe she were actually deaf (she even had most of the crew convinced for her first three days on set). Despite a very low budget, the movie has very good production values. Cinematography and sound are as polished as they would be on a much bigger-budget production. It’s All Gone Pete Tong does get some things wrong. Anyone who’s seen Scratch will know that the movie oversimplifies the job of a good DJ. And the movie seems a little confused about its message, both in the marketing, and in the movie itself. It is sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic, and sometimes tragic, and goes on about five minutes too long.

But even if it doesn’t live up to its billing, it’s still an enjoyable movie that rings in your ears after the closing theme has stopped playing.