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September 16, 1999 2:00 AM
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TORONTO REVIEW: "Human Traffics" in Woodyish, Trainspotting-like Druggy Fun

TORONTO REVIEW: "Human Traffics" in Woodyish, Trainspotting-like Druggy Fun

by Ray Pride




Only three days into a film festival and you can already tell those who see five or six films--or more!--in a day. Puffy faces, dazed expression, an oleaginous walk, like moon men back on earth, unaccustomed to standing. The dreamy look or the thrilled look is more rare-that untrammeled joy that comes from having witnessed a grand thing take place in the dark.


After "Human Traffic"'s first public screening, there was a druggy shared buzz among those who had laughed and grinned their way all the way through. Writer-director Justin Kerrigan is an improbable Welsh Woody Allen-while his subject is an unapologetic lost weekend among a crew of ecstasy-loving Cardiffians in their 20's, the unrelenting zest of the filmmaking has made comparisons to "Trainspotting" inevitable. Yet it's more of a piece with another much-beloved, much-quoted mosaic of a movie-"Human Traffic" is an "Annie Hall" for the next generation.


At Miramax's annual Monday afternoon cocktail party, Kerrigan barreled in at the last moment, his film having just been plucked for North America by Harvey Weinstein after a private screening. He was a smiling, happy lad. I asked about "Annie Hall" and he grinned, "It's the best fuckin' movie ever made!" (Of course, later he told a friend, when asked about Hal Hartley's influence, "'Trust' is like the best fuckin' film ever made!")


The taglines may well wind up reading "the rave party romantic comedy of Generation Y Not?" but Kerrigan has his own voice amid the ventriloquizing. He's not trapped by his interior monologue, but liberated by everyone else's. Kerrigan's a pop-culture monster. (There are easily cherished riffs on "Taxi Driver," "Clerks," and "Star Wars" salted through the story as well.)


"The weekend has landed," our lead ranter and raver Jip (John Simm) riffs, "All that exists now is clubs, drugs, pubs and parties. I've got 48 hours off from the world, man, I'm gonna blow steam out of my head like a screaming kettle, I'm gonna talk shit to strangers all night, I'm gonna lose the plot on the dance floor... Anything could happen tonight, y'know. this could be the best night of my life."


Kerrigan shares his own infectious enthusiasm with all five of his characters. "It's about me and my mates and our raving sexual paranoia," Jip tells us as he introduces Kerrigan's twenty-something archetypes: the hilarious wannabe deejay and toaster Koop, who's stuck as a peddler of tragic beats to the unwary; Jip's best female pal, Lulu, described as "a complete hedonist but totally down to earth." Koop dates Nina, who has the not-uncommon misfortune of being "just a fuckin' asshole magnet." The last of the batch is the charming dealer, Muff, who also over-samples his own wares: "He's the biggest pill monster I know."


Among Kerrigan's many canny moves in his odyssey through "Planet Cardiff" is invoking the renegade, unapologetic spirit of the late U.S. comedian Bill Hicks, who died of cancer in his 40s, but in his last years, became a major comic voice in the U.K. Before letting his own voice show us a non-moralizing look at a drugged-up lost weekend, Kerrigan lets another, older, respected voice speak first.

As shot by David Bennett, the images have a clarity both marzipan-bright and video game-intense. Kerrigan's also clever enough to have composed an instructive compendium of cool low-budget tricks from the last twenty years of lower-budget independent filmmaking, such as direct address to camera, stark-raving hilarious monologues, gags with subtitles, corner-cutting voice-overs, out-of-reality set pieces, and phone calls between the friends-all avoiding the cost-intensive need to take multiple takes of characters interacting, hitting their marks and making their timing sing.


There's gorgeous noise throughout, with an relentless rush of techno, dub and ambient music from Fat Boy Slim, Underworld, Primal Scream and others. And whether planned or not, the film is ready for U.S. ears. The dialogue isn't super-broguey like "Trainspotting"-no subtitles will be required for these charming kids' self-aware, self-questioning banter. Cool, tender, sexy, anarchic, unapologetically high, lusciously musical and lunatic funny, "Human Traffic" is an unlikely but exhilarating treat.


[Ray Pride is a contributing editor to FILMMAKER Magazine and longtime film critic for Chicago's Newcity. He writes about movies for many other publications, including Playboy Online. He is also a screenwriter and filmmaker.]

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