Movie Review: “We Are Your Friends”

fri2Dear Zac Efron;

We are your fans. Maybe even your friends. But we won’t be either for much longer, if you can’t escape drivel like “We Are Your Friends.”

It’s got music, so we can totally see why you’d be drawn to it. You get to be the Top Dog/Top Hunk with talent and the hot girlfriend in a group of pals living together, frolicking and stripping off their shirts, horse-playing together. Oh, and hustling girls into dance clubs in The Valley.

We get that, too. Nothing wrong with playing that homoerotic card. Again.

But this is a “Step Up” movie without the dancing, “A Star is Born” without Streisand, a musical about “rocking a party” from the mixing board, and a house techno-house music primer about “listening” and the value of organic sounds.

How did you miss the laughable irony in this script about a laptop digital musician who finds his “one track” by collecting real world sound effects on his smart phone?

Most ironic of all? Your star vehicle gives Wes Bentley — yes Wes Bentley — his best role in years playing your drunken, sell-out DJ mentor, the guy who teaches you to “listen.”

Efron plays Cole, a struggling 20something DJing (for free) at clubs in the San Fernando Valley, longing for the day he’s a Star in L.A.

His high school pals are a collection of cute “types.” There’s the tattooed short-fused joker (Jonny Weston), the drug dealing hustler (Shiloh Fernandez) and the nerdy soul of the gang, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer).

They “promote” this local club, passing out fliers and hustling up business, of which they get a cut. Only they never get a fair one. Should they fall in with the high-living mortgage scammer (Jon Bernthal) who promises them unethical riches?

Not so fast. Cole meets James Reed (Bentley, of “The Hunger Games” and scads of Z-movies). Reed’s the star, almost too jaded to enjoy the easy booze, easy drugs and easy women that come with being famous enough to coast on past glories. He has a hot assistant to come home to (Emily Ratajkowski), but not a lot of friends.

He takes an interest in “San Fernando,” his nickname for The Kid. They work on that “one track” that will launch Cole. If Cole can hold his liquor, keep his mouth shut about what he REALLY thinks of the older man and keep his hands off the man’s voluptuous, ill-used lady friend.

It’s all poolside parties and closeups of cleavage and EXTREME close-ups of bikini-clad bottoms, “put your hands in the air” moments in the synth-beat Muzak the DJ is spinning.  It’s about dreams and morality and what you’re willing to do to make it, and there’s no logic to it, from the moment the veteran DJ takes an interest in giving away his throne to a two-fisted Valley boy.

But here’s what works. Cole narrates his story, and he explains Techno, to those of us immune to its charms. It takes talent, and a technician’s expertise with synthesizing sounds. How does a DJ “rock a party?”

“You zero in on their heartbeat,” find that magic rhythm in the 128 beats-per-minute range, and they’re putty in your hands.

But “We Are Your Friends” has no heartbeat. It flatlines, early on, save for the odd droll drunken moment from Bentley or the camera’s occasional ogle of the shapely Ms. Ratajkowski. Tragedy strikes, quarrels are solved by magic and everybody spends way beyond his or her means. Because it’s a movie.

So Zac, even though you’ve sexed up your image and moved years past that “High School Musical” persona, following a chunk of your generation into Techno seems cynical and misguided. Which is why “We Are Your Friends” is the classic “August Movie,” when filmgoers all come up empty, panning for cinematic gold among the dregs of summer.


MPAA Rating:R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity

Cast: Zac EFron,  Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley, Jonny Weston,  Shiloh Fernandez, Jon Bernthal
Credits: Directed by Max Joseph, script by Max Joseph, Meaghan Oppenheimer and Richard Silverman.  A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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