‘We Are Your Friends’
Director:
Max Joseph
Stars: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s a single terrific scene in the sometimes touchingly, often wincingly earnest EDM drama “We Are Your Friends.” Aspiring DJ Cole Carter, played with blank-faced puppydog sincerity by Zac Efron, mans the controls of an L.A. rich person party and, to impress a girl, and maybe us, decides to offer up his secret recipe. Cole breaks down how different BPM rates manipulate and seize control upon the body. Reggae chills out; thrash metal revs up. Club music occupies a space in between, but the ideal DJ knows how to seduce his prey by gradually ramping up the speed then cradling revelers with a beat that turns dancers into swaying zombies.

"We Are Your Friends" isn't always out to make you dance (in your seat). Director Max Joseph is a producer on the “Catfish” TV show, and he knows how to use that film's stylistic playfulness to bring certain scenes peppily alive. But he's also interested in simple talking scenes that offer a much more thrilling breakdown of the gruntwork of DJing. Cole is schooled by James (Wes Bentley), a 30-something god of the craft who’s let success turn him into a corporate whore and alkie who laces his joints with PCP. Having a tutee periodically reawakens the artist inside him as he lectures his charge on getting away from interchangeable digital beats and indulging in the warmth of real sounds. When not drunk-sleeping on floors next to a half-filled rock glass, he preaches originality, not imitation. (In a lot of ways “Friends” plays like a sequel to the grim French club saga “Eden,” with James as the broken version of that film’s aging record-slinger.)

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It’s too easy to say “We Are Your Friends” doesn’t remotely heed James’ advice, but it is true. A douchebag “Saturday Night Fever,” it slips in a rote love triangle and even a riff on “Boiler Room,” complete with Jon Bernthal reprising his “The Wolf of Wall Street” thug. Like "Fever"'s Tony Manero, Cole keeps getting dragged down by his go-nowhere friends, the most despicable of which, Jonny Weston’s bulletheaded hothead Mason, says things like, “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me.” Mason is more evil than all of the pals in “Fever” combined, but “Friends,” like Cole, can’t bring itself to shake him, or even redeem him. He exploits his friends’ talents, picks fights at pool parties and badly handles a third act tragedy completely outside this youthful film’s capabilities, but the film thinks he’s no more than a card.

"Friends" means to bridge the gap between millenials and Gen-X, with Cole's naivete battling with James' self-destructive cynicism. But it usually errs on the side of naivete. It's a reminder that even douches need movies too, and sometimes they feature Emily Ratajkowski, who cropped up in the “Entourage” movie and here plays the slightly more colored-in character of James’ personal assistant/ladyfriend, as well as Cole’s moony crush. (They spend most of their alone time running in slow-mo among bright lights while M83-style torch songs blast.) Ratajkowski is supposed to be sarcastic but often seems a rung above disinterested, though you try to dress up lines like “I want a cheeseburger.” To its credit “Friends” shows some interest in her inner life and some awareness of a cruel world outside its youthful/white microcosm. It’s not just about youthful hedonism, though it’s mostly that too. It’s young, dumb and full of pick-up lines like “Your body is 81 percent water and I’m thirsty.” Despite the occasional weary cynicism, “Friends” feels both made for people like Cole and written by them as well. Its target audience will feel the instant connection of a film that speaks to them, then turn on it the second they hit 30.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge