Sun score: ** 1/2
Humans are desperate to connect. They are equally desperate to shed their everyday personas and become whatever they want. What's a solution? Dancing all night long.
This is the principle that comes through so sweetly in "Groove," which traces a night in the life of a group of young people who commandeer a vacant San Francisco warehouse and create a "rave" - an all-night outlaw dance party.
If you're a partisan of "60 Minutes" and "Dateline," you think that raves are just about drugs (LSD, Ecstasy, nicotine and GHB are the stimulants of choice, washed down with gallons of mineral water). But director Greg Harrison wants us to know that the parties, imported from England in the 1990s, are about good, clean fun, too.
The result is a surprisingly tame portrait of the rave scene. "Groove" is as wholesome as "American Graffiti" and "Dazed and Confused," in which drugs are prodigiously ingested with no serious consequences or even shaky driving.
This idealized view might induce some eye-rolling - for a darker vision see Gregg Araki's "Doom Generation" - but Harrison's defense of his generation, his admiration of the creativity of modern primitives who reach out over the Internet and other 21st century conveyances and his worship of star DJs (Polywog and John Digweed are two of the cameos) are admirable.
"Groove" has a sweetness to it that's irresistible, and its techno, trance and jungle soundtrack is as infectious and hypnotic as a contact high.
- Ann Hornaday
Sun score: **
"Jesus' Son" is based on the collection of short stories by Denis Johnson that has garnered a fiercely loyal cult of fans since its publication in 1992. Not having read the book, it's impossible to know whether Alison Maclean's adaptation lives up to its source material.
Does it make it as a movie? Only in fits and starts. Billy Crudup plays a character called FH (short for something unprintable), who drifts from one heroin nod to another, hooking up with the love of his life (Samantha Morton), losing her and finally finding redemption in an assisted care facility in Phoenix.
"Jesus' Son" tells FH's story in a series of episodes whose deadpan humor presumably gave Johnson's book its appeal. Some are wincingly funny - Jack Black's drug-addled hospital orderly is truly frightening and hilarious - but others feel like versions of druggy vignettes we've seen way too many times. (Let me just come out right now and say I never, ever want to see someone shoot up on screen again.)
Crudup's previous movies "Without Limits" and "The Hi-Lo Country" were both dumped by their studios, preventing filmgoers from seeing one of the best actors of his generation. Here he flutters and prances as the callow FH, and his smile alone is worth the price of admission, but we have yet to see the best of what this gifted actor can do on screen.
Joe Henry's musical score is a high point, as is Maclean's assured tackling of "Jesus' Son" time-warped narrative, but at the end of the day all we learn is that making human connection is a good thing. (You can watch "Groove" and have a whole lot more fun learning that.)
- Ann Hornaday
'The In Crowd'
Sun Score: * 1/2
When studios don't offer advance screenings, it's usually a signal that the film stinks. Such tactics are meant to keep negative reviews from squashing opening-weekend box-office receipts.
But "The In Crowd" is not such a horrible film that it deserves this fate. It's not a great movie, but it's much better than audience torture devices like "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" and "Jawbreaker," both of which received some studio backing and a press screening.
Adrien Williams, played by Lori Heuring, is a fish out of water who's trying to put her life back together. She's leaving a psychiatric hospital after a history of delusional, obsessive behavior. Her caring doctor (Daniel Hugh Kelly, of TV's "Hardcastle and McCormick") sets her up with a summer job at the local country club. One young immortal is Brittany Foster (Susan Ward), drawn to the new girl for reasons that unravel as the story plods along. The usual class tug-of-war, jealousies and murder plots ensue.
Beware, "The In Crowd" is also a shameless exploitation film targeted at the teen dollar. It dangles images of la vida loca in front of hormonally challenged kids, who no doubt wish they were having parties on the beach, bathing in alcohol and participating in anything vaguely sexual. But this the film does well, creating a believable world of beautiful people that is alluring, then repellent.
Other ham-fisted devices work well, too. A sexual tension between Adrien and Brittany keeps the first half of the film afloat, just before it turns into a tepid thriller. But while shifting gears, the story bogs down, causing viewers to look for a seventh inning stretch.