Kill-Your-Friends-Nicholas-HoultKill Your Friends is not nearly as deliciously nasty a film as it should be and not half as clever as it thinks it is. Scripted by John Niven from his own novel, the movie takes a satiric look at the British music industry in the late 1990’s, the supposed heyday of the late, unlamented Britpop movement. Yes, the acting is bravura, the direction appropriately brisk, the dialogue and cinematography respectively knife-edge sharp, but the end result is merely diverting rather than engrossing.

Part of this is attributable to the zeitgeist of the era in question – or more precisely, the absence of a discernible zeitgeist. The mid-to-late 90’s is like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland: there is no there. It’s too soon to be nostalgic for a period of time that left as much impression on our social and cultural conscience as a cancelled summer television series. The movie spends little time and effort in evoking the period other than the musical acts that are mocked and a Tony Blair campaign billboard that appears briefly at the onset. The behavior of the protagonist – the whore mongering, coke snorting, misogynistic piece of shit (in a good way) who serves as tour guide for the trip – is straight out of the 80’s, a fact he himself alludes to.

But the anti-hero as an anachronism is never explored. He simply exists in this environment, and we are left to watch as he seeks a way to the top. Who’s in and who’s out in the record business changes daily, and the only thing you can be certain of is that as you slip the knife into your colleague’s back, there sure as hell is someone sidling up behind you to return the favor. Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is an up-and-comer in the A&R division of a major recording label until he’s not. A&R stands for artists & repertoire, the folks responsible for finding and signing the talent. The foundation of the satire here is the same as William Goldman’s premise regarding Hollywood – nobody knows anything. All the talent scouts hitting the clubs and listening to demo tapes are blind mice looking for a piece of cheese with no identifiable taste.

To be fair, this notion leads to at least one great bit in the movie, when the German “artist” Rudi (Moritz Bleibtreu) plays his latest track for Stelfox, a techno pop miasma featuring a voiceover admonishing the listener to perform a certain sexual act on the performer ad infinitum. It may not smell like teen spirit, but the Eurotrash seem to love it. The other targets of the screenplay’s barbs are predictable, slow-moving prey. Taking the piss out of the Spice Girls is not exactly original or challenging, nor is mocking inarticulate Hip Hop artists working on their concept albums. The endless lines of coke, the boorish behavior, and the familiar punch lines lend a jaded sense of déjà vu to much of the first part of the film, which proceeds in an anecdotal manner.

One death later, we are left with a new paradigm that includes a replacement head of A&R, an ambitious assistant and a police detective/wannabee songwriter. Unfortunately, the body count does not keep up with expectations, and the ending comes off as a little bit too tidy. However, the ride is not with its pleasures, most specifically, the performance of Nicholas Hoult in the lead role. Hoult raged brilliantly earlier in the summer in Mad Max: Fury Road as Nux, the War Boy who ultimately redeems himself. In Kill Your Friends, he confirms his monster talent with another larger-than-life performance. Stelfox is a gecko, a cold-blooded, unblinking reptile, and Hoult captures the character completely. He is ably abetted by his beautiful assistant, Rebecca (Georgia King) and his office mentor, Trellick (Joseph Mawle). When this trio performs, this film about music sings. When they don’t, it’s all a bit flat.

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