We Are Your Friends is to electronic dance music DJs what Punchline is to standup comedians, a laughable repre-Zen-tation of what it's like to be them. The movie takes something primally appealing and attempts to explain it, fetishize it, turn it into something deeper and more dramatic than it is.
The only thing more pathetic would be those viewers who'll believe what writer-director Max Joseph is spinning, and walk out thinking, hey, I can do that. All you need is a laptop, some talent and one crowd-surging track, the hero informs us. How hard can it be?
Probably not as melodramatic and steeped in physiology as Joseph makes it out to be. Our hero Cole Carter (Zac Efron) explains it all for us with charts and diagrams, how he gets into the circulatory system of everyone in the club, with an X-ray ability to see inside their chests. He'll tease their pulses with the same riff to marathon runner rates before dropping the boom on the room. Then, he gets to smoke a PCP-laced joint with L.A.'s best DJ, at a party Joseph rotoscopes to make everyone look like cartoons. As if his screenplay isn't already accomplishing that.
We Are Your Friends doesn't have much of a story. Mostly, it's a skeevy Entourage knockoff with Cole and his mangy pals doing lots of drugs and picking up women, bragging what stars they'll be while not really trying. The hot-headed DJ gig arranger is Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) says he's an actor, and the litter's runt is sacrificial Squirrel (Alex Shaffer).
Cole's break comes through James Reed (Wes Bentley), an approaching-the-hill DJ with a comely live-in personal assistant Sophia (Emily Ratajkowski and her Barcalounger lips). Sophia and Cole bond over ecstasy in Las Vegas, James finds out and We Are Your Friends finds another reason to overstay its welcome, repetitiously droning like its EDM soundtrack.
To be fair, the guys do have dishonest day jobs. Cole and the gang fall in with a flashy real estate shyster (Jon Bernthal), taking advantage of foreclosures. Cole needs to get his head out of his earphones (and elsewhere), listen to the world around him and sample that stuff for a dope track to lay down at the Summerfest finale, if we're lucky. (Nope.)
It's disappointing to see Efron retreat to such a superficial role, after taking several steps forward in role choices in recent years. He needs more to do than squint at sound, turn knobs and tap keys. At least Channing Tatum gets to dirty dance with his improbable adventures in making ends meet. We Are Your Friends is ... Mike without the magic, and a punch line of its own.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.