Thursday, March 1, 2007
"Rolling" may not live up to its billing as the first narrative feature to deal with Ecstasy usage, but it does strike an entertaining balance between boosterish 2000 indie "Groove" and the cautionary hysteria of direct-to-vid "Rave." Excepting "Go" (1999), no film dealing with this particular drug or its affiliated rave scene thus far has found much of an audience. Multihyphenate Billy Samoa Saleebey's debut feature could reverse those fortunes, despite a lack of name players. Winner of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival's Audience Award, pic could reward distribs willing to do youth outreach off the beaten marketing path.

Opening titles note that the formula for Ecstasy (MDMA) was invented by a U.S. pharmaceutical company in 1912, then abandoned for a half-century until the Eisenhower-era Army auditioned it as a truth serum. In the '70s some psychiatrists deployed it in patient therapy. Increasing recreational use led to criminalization by the DEA in 1985. Nonetheless, global popularity has continued to rise, with a purported one out of 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 having tried it. Pic focuses on a group of sexy young users in Los Angeles -- at age 26, trust-fund playboy Dan (Albert Rothman) is the hoary vet -- who converge at a downtown warehouse party one Friday night. It takes them 50 minutes to get there, as Saleebey crosscuts between introductory seriocomic strands and pseudo-documentary "interviews" with lead characters about their X experiences (shot in de rigeur wobbly-cam style). Among the principals are several recently split couples. Commitment-phobic 20-year-old Summer (Kristin Dunst lookalike Rachel Hardisty) dumped high school senior Josh (Joshua Harper) when he got too serious. Rain (Sanoe Lake) left distraught live-in b.f. and dealer Dustin (Garrett Brawith) after an abortion she hasn't told him about. West Hollywood resident Matt's (Brian William Toth) jerk boyfriend just walked out, so he's up for a night of abandon with actress best friend Samantha (Christine Cowden). Her bitchy personality undergoes radical change once she's accidentally dosed with the "love drug." "Rolling" features mostly hardcore users, perhaps typical among young middle-class L.A. adults, but less reflective of casual use trends elsewhere. There's much talk of some "bad" MDMA that reportedly killed three people in Vegas. After a while, it's clear we're just waiting to see who will O.D., providing the pic with a predictable (if rather rare in real-life) dramatic and moralistic climax. Another minus is the presence of gay and ethnic stereotypes in early reels. On the upside, the cast is attractive and personable, with character arcs peaking nicely during a post-rave stretch at Dan's Hollywood Hills manse. Particularly endearing is exchange between Josh and Angie Greenup's Sarah, an English teacher initially mortified to run into her own student on the party circuit. While lacking the organic warmth of "Groove," "Rolling" does communicate some positive aspects of Ecstasy, its ability to break down emotional barriers and induce unfettered positive communication. As Rain bluntly puts it, people do the drug "for the same reason (they) have dogs -- to feel loved." Semi-improvised "interviews" duly explore negative sides, including the scientifically as-yet-unanswered questions of whether MDMA is addictive, can lead to post-high depression or has damaging long-term physiological consequences. Most recognizable face here is Lake from "Blue Crush," everyone else being relatively unknown. Use of multiple shooting formats adds to a lively visual and editorial package. As one might expect, the soundtrack is heavy on humping techno.
-Dennis Harvey