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With Friends Like These ...

Warner Brothers
 96 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Max Joseph 
Starring: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley
We Are Your Friends

Cheesy bad movies can go in two directions. They can either acknowledge and revel in their cheesiness and keep ladling it on, like the by-now cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer, which launched several careers and resulted in an equally cheesy Netflix prequel this year. Or, they can attempt to elevate themselves above the cheese and become Serious Meaningful Dramas. We Are Your Friends attempts the latter approach and winds up descending into utter mediocrity.


We Are Your Friends takes an eye-opening look at the world of electronic dance music (EDM), a type of music that I never really thought of as a serious form of music before seeing this movie. However, director Max Joseph, who has some experience in this field, obviously does take it seriously, because he explains the physics, physiology, and psychology behind it rather cleverly in one sequence, showing how a good DJ can get an otherwise normal crowd to start jumping up and down in heated rhythm to the beats on the soundtrack.


In this case, the good DJ is one Cole Carter (Zac Efron), who, when he is not playing a local club for little or no money, does little else but odd jobs and hanging out with his three loser friends, who seem like the first three guys cut during auditions for Entourage. Their “leader” is an especially clueless guy named Dustin (Jonny Weston), who does some construction work and lets Cole stay at his house.


One night, Cole winds up as the opening act for big name DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley) and strikes up a conversation with Reed during a break. Reed invites Cole to DJ a party at his house, where Cole delivers the aforementioned lesson in DJ’ing to James’s personal assistant/girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). The party ends badly when Dustin and the other idiots arrive and start a fight, but James winds up taking a liking to Cale and serving as a mentor.


Of course, Sophie also takes a liking of a different sort to Cole, and the two get together for a hot weekend in Las Vegas. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before James, who has some drinking and depression problems of his own, finds out, and the characters have it all out in one of those typically nonsensical dramatic movie arguments.


Once viewers get past any reluctance they have about accepting EDM as “real” music, We Are Your Friends plays like any clichéd movie about musicians, or, in Cole’s case, composers. We even get most of the most bizarre “creative” inspirations ever, as Cole decides he needs to incorporate his surroundings, i.e., the typical background noises in the less-than-lovely San Fernando Valley where he lives, into his music. So, we listen to Cole record roofing tiles being stapled into a roof, wind chimes, and a lot more random noises that are subsequently mixed into a grand composition that … well, to me at least pretty much sounds like every other track in the entire movie.


Not that there’s anything wrong with those tracks, mind you. The music in We Are Your Friends is actually quite infectious, and director Joseph, who has a background in commercials, has quite a visual eye as well. So, all the musical montages, though somewhat repetitive, are never boring. In that regard, it helps to have Emily Ratajkowski and various female extras display a lot of cleavage and gyrate in slow motion.


Director Joseph also manages to add some literally trippy visuals when Cole goes to an art gallery while high and imagines the various colors bleeding from the paintings. The semi-animated sequence is a gimmick that’s been used a number of times, but Joseph makes it interesting. 


Sadly, not all the trippy visuals, jiggly cleavage, and pulse pounding music in the world can make the supporting characters in We Are Your Friends the slightest bit interesting or funny. The three guys that Cole hangs around with are prototypical losers whose idea of a good job is hustling to get people to attend the club where Cole is the DJ so they can get free drinks. They spend their spare time getting into fights and getting high, not necessarily in that order. If they said one truly funny or insightful thing among the three of them during the movie, I must have missed it.


The script also attempts to impart to Cole (and presumably the audience) a couple of life lessons that seem to come directly from an afterschool special. One of the plot threads in the movie involves the guys working for a slick but sleazy real estate shark (Jon Bernthal), who offers to “help” underwater homeowners keep their houses. Needless to say, the only help they get is in losing their house to the shark, as Cole learns when he gets involved in one such transaction. The other lesson, not surprisingly, has to do with drugs, and, considering that Cole and his buddies all partake mass quantities of a variety of substances, is not difficult to guess.


The completely clueless earnest tone that We Are Your Friends adopts in its non-musical interludes is in sharp contrast to the amped up energy in the movie’s better moments. It’s hard to imagine Friends being an actually good movie, but adding more humor and not attempting to play it serious would have helped turn it into an amiable goof, at the very least. As it is, We Are Your Friends is a fair weather friend of a movie: enjoyable to be around when the music’s playing and things are going well, but a real bummer when they aren’t.

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We Are Your Friends (2015) on IMDb