Watching Groove is like being at a party where you don’t know anyone, don’t really meet anyone interesting, and don’t have access to any good drugs (unless you happen to be watching the movie while on drugs, a policy frowned upon by culturevulture.net management). It’s kind of fun for a while, but eventually you decide you’d rather be home crashed out on the couch in front of the tube. In the annals of rave cinema, Groove ranks a distant third behind Go (the Citizen Kane of rave movies) and Human Traffic (the…uh…Touch of Evil, I suppose).
Unlike those two day-glo hits of snap-crackle-and-pop-culture laced ephedrine, Groove doesn’t strive to be a hyper-stylized, anything-goes funhouse ride. Instead, first time director Greg Harrison takes a near-documentary approach, chronicling the history of a rave from the choosing of a suitably abandoned warehouse venue to the last deejay packing up his turntables and crates of vinyl. The first part of the movie is a virtual primer in how to put on your own all-night groovefest; first there’s the equipment load-in, then a voicemail announcement followed by e-mailed directions to a drop point where maps to the location are distributed. All this is a means of limiting attendance and throwing any unwanted law enforcement representatives off the trail (neither effort being entirely successful in this case).
Along the way we meet the ravers: Ernie (Steve Van Wormer), the brains behind the operation, who does it not for profit but for "the nod" he gets at the end of the evening from satisfied customers; Colin (Denny Kirkwood), a rave veteran, and his brother David (Hamish Linklater), a novice; Colin’s pig-tailed girlfriend Harmony; and Leyla (Lola Glaudini), a recent New York transplant who sends out a mass e-mail plea for a ride to the event, only to receive more offers than she can handle. As the party goes on, David takes his first hit of Ecstasy and hooks up with Leyla, while Colin gets a little too groovy under the influence of the love drug, nearly scuttling his relationship with Harmony in the process. Ernie, meanwhile, deals with suspicious cops and no-show deejays in his effort to keep the event going all night long.
In other words, there isn’t much in the way of intricate plotting here; the rave itself is the star of the show. The movie is broken up into chapters, each named after the deejay who spins records during that segment. Film loops and digital animations are projected onto the warehouse walls, spotlights with colored gels dance in hypnotic patterns to the beat of the music, and ravers enhance the experience by "buying a vowel" – either A for acid or E for ecstasy. This youth culture takes the hippie ethos and jacks it up to 300 beats-per-minute – they’re all about peace and love and good vibes, but without the endless Grateful Dead-style guitar noodling. The music of choice is jungle and house and trance and drums-and-bass, and the deejay is the master of ceremonies, mixing all these types of electronica into one seamless groove. To those not immersed in this world, the music has an anonymity that matches up with the movie’s under-imagined characters and fuzzy, indistinct look.
The mistake Harrison makes is forgetting that there’s nothing more boring than being sober at a party where everyone else is high. Watching someone else look at their hands, or stare at a pattern of psychedelic colors, or engage in the sort of banal chit-chat that seems so heavy when you’re stoned out of your gourd, just doesn’t cut it as entertainment. Other up-all-night youth culture movies like Go and Dazed and Confused plug us directly into the world of their characters, make us feel like we’re right there tapping the keg or hitting the bong, but Groove keeps the audience at arm’s length. It may be true that you don’t need drugs to have fun at a rave, but you couldn’t prove it by watching Groove.