Loud, brash, and good-natured, Human Traffic follows five young friends as they tear through a weekend of drugs and drink in Cardiff. Crammed with over 40 pop songs, but offering only sketchy characters and plot, the film will find at best a cult following.
Jip (John Simm), a salesclerk in a clothing store, is an enthusiastic advocate of the drug Ecstasy. He's also fallen victim to one of the drug's side effects: impotence. Jip's best friend is Koop (Shaun Parkes), a black man who works in a record store and fantasizes about being a DJ. Koop is seeing Nina (Nicola Reynolds), who has just quit a boring job at a fast-food restaurant. Her friend Lulu (Lorraine Pilkington) has been suffering through a string of bad boyfriends. Rounding out the group is Moff (Danny Dyer), who is unemployed and living with his parents.
On Friday night, the five meet in a pub before going to the Asylum nightclub. Since they are short one ticket, Jip has to talk his way past the owner before he can join the others on the dance floor. When the club winds down, the five go to a party in a mansion. Moff and a stranger talk for hours about the drug subtext in Star Wars. Koop gets jealous of Nina's flirting. Jip and Lulu are drawn to each other. She ends up spending the night at his apartment, where he is haunted by the ghosts of past sexual failures. The friends will meet up at another pub on Sunday to review the weekend's exploits.
Writer and director Justin Kerrigan's feature debut is marked by an upbeat attitude and lots of atmosphere, but is notable mostly for his willingness to throw every cinematic trick in the book at the story. Kerrigan still has trouble finding enough material to fill the film, despite four plotlines and a half-dozen major characters. As a result, Human Traffic is weighed down with digressions, transitions, cutaways, scenes repeated from different angles, brief sketches, fake interviews, and the kind of ersatz drug trips that give public-service announcements a bad name.
The leads bring plenty of energy to the story, but are shortchanged by thin writing that fails to build narrative momentum. Efforts to flesh out or explain the characters tend to maudlin clichs: Jip's mother is a prostitute, Koop's father is in a mental institution, etc. Some funny bits do pop up, such as Koop pushing a wretched rap song on clueless college kids by claiming that it was recorded by a 'posse of crackheads on death row.' Overall, however, the film suffers from an air of self-congratulation as well as self-indulgence. By acting as if no one ever got high before, or had trouble with relationships, Human Traffic ends up no more knowledgeable or insightful than the old beach-blanket movies.