Groove, an engagingly scrappy youth-courtship ensemble comedy in the spirit of American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, follows a handful of twentysomething thrill seekers as they attend a midnight-to-dawn rave in a mostly vacant San Francisco warehouse. The music is techno, the drug of choice is Ecstasy, the wall lighting is late-hippie psychedelic throb, and the central activity, apart from some fist-in-the-air orgiastic communal dancing, is finding someone to make out with, or maybe fall in love with. Nothing that happens in Groove is all that surprising, but writer-director-editor Greg Harrison, in his first feature, wins you over with his open-eyed rave romanticism. The movie has a great beat, and you can just about dance while watching it.
The characters are Internet-minded post-Xers who find their ”individuality” when they dissolve into groups. Ecstasy — the state of being, not the drug — is less a quest than a middle-class rite of passage that has been handed down to them. There isn’t much they can do with dance music, for instance, except make it faster. Anyone who grew up in the ’60s, the ’70s, or the ’80s may think that they’ve seen — and lived — most of this before, and perhaps they have. What’s infectious about Groove is the friendly, almost innocent way that its brat pack of digital-age bohemians seek liberation in a world where there is nothing left to rebel against. This is an underground party movie in which the hero writes PC manuals, the drug dealer teaches science classes, the most conservative and fuddy-duddy couple is gay, and the most radical thing you can do to your neighbor is offer him or her a joyful, platonic hug.
The characters in Groove are all but defined by their accessories and/or facial hair, which may say as much about Harrison’s genially low-budget, indie-meets-The WB filmmaking style as it does about the rave scene. Nevertheless, a handful of the actors make their roles stick. As David, the nervous hero who is tripping out for the first time, Hamish Linklater does a likable job updating the stock part of the straight-arrow outsider, and NYPD Blue alum Lola Glaudini, as the transplanted East Coaster who finds herself attracted to him, makes an alluring postfeminist vamp. There’s a love triangle that features an unexpected bisexual twist, though this kink carries more punch as glib sociology than it does as drama. As for Ernie (Steve Van Wormer), who puts the whole shindig together, he has some funny moments outwitting the police, but I confess I would have enjoyed his spirit of club-kid solidarity even more if he didn’t utter the line ”It ain’t over till the last record spins!”
At moments, Groove wears its good-vibes generosity like a Day-Glo peace sign. As the night goes on, however, with each DJ upping the rave’s intensity, the exultant ferocity of the music trumps any overripe earnestness. Welcome, the movie says, to the new beauty: pulsing, anonymous, a disco inferno as cool as a computer chip. B