- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

The British movie "24 Hour Party People" is a nostalgic celebration of a proudly anarchic and disorganized rock music management that evidently flourished in Manchester, England, from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. It excels at skipping in one ear and out the other. I was left at a complete cultural disadvantage but kind of enjoyed the out-of-it sensation.

Not having been a follower of Manchester rock groups during the blissful era of tumult, promiscuity and narcotic overstimulation recalled so fondly and facetiously by director Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, I have to accept their impressions on sheer disenchanted trust.

Mr. Boyce affects a breezy chronicle by relying on the impish, first-person, straight-to-the-camera narration of Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson. Mr. Wilson is a Granada Television personality who branched out into show-business entrepreneurship, principally as the proprietor of a label called Factory Records and a rock nightclub called the Hacienda, which he likens to the notorious Studio 54 in its prime.

Mr. Wilson also became the permissive-to-a-fault manager of two bands of purported renown, Joy Division and Happy Mondays, which also had incarnations under other names. Their trademark hits, which even now escape my memory, came as instantly negligible revelations during the movie. I am grateful to learn that these young louts had their Camelot moments along with legions of other meteoric rock ensembles.

The fictionalized Tony Wilson of the movie is such a card that at one point he introduces the authentic Mr. Wilson, cast in a bit role as a TV director. This gag triggers a sequence of introductions in a similar vein. The protagonist gets to straddle past and present systematically, commenting on his follies from an indulgent contemporary perspective. Bliss it was to have been Tony Wilson when Factory and Hacienda were humming, one gathers.

The format also permits a good deal of slapstick horseplay, extending from a "pigeon-cam" perspective to an endorsement of Mr. Wilson by a God-like eminence who bears a remarkable resemblance to the narrator.

The film's most reliable asset is Mr. Coogan, who appears to be a witty new saturnine variation on Alan Rickman. His nonchalance and verbal timing sustain the chronicle over extensive patches of obscure, parochial or downright disreputable showmanship. He's an adroit man with a quip, even when you're not especially amused by the context.

It's difficult to brush off the allusions to Hacienda as a thriving haven for thugs and ecstasy freaks during its salad days. Mr. Wilson probably was doing more than his share to appease and inflame sociopaths. He is given a prideful, Cambridge-educated sense of aplomb and entitlement that fails to finesse all the lingering taints of criminality and corruption that cling to the Factory and Hacienda sagas.

You surmise that Mr. Wilson was some kind of rascal, but maybe not as indispensable as he would like to think. He may have caught one of the breaks of a lifetime by having his life and legend entrusted to a comic actor as distinctive as Steve Coogan.


*1/2

TITLE: "24 Hour Party People"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity and allusions to drug use; occasional nudity and sexual candor, with fleeting simulations of intercourse; a tone of nostalgic bemusement about vice in a show business setting)

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

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