Film Review: Kill Your Friends

A monotonous music-biz satire cast in a faux 'American Psycho' mold.
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Kill Your Friends argues that music-industry executives are all arrogant, racist, misogynistic psychopaths who care far more about money than artistry, and who have no qualms about lying, cheating, backstabbing and murdering in order to advance their career ambitions. If that sounds both obvious and stereotypical, then steer clear of Owen Harris’ black comedy based on John Niven’s 2008 novel of the same name, about a twenty-something A&R man named Steven (Nicholas Hoult) at a British record label in 1997. A cretin of the smuggest sort, Steven’s life consists of ingesting copious amounts of cocaine and booze, smiling to bosses while setting up his immediate superiors for failure, and—in narration that drives this interminably full-of-itself film forward—opining about the wretchedness of the pop musicians he’s hired to find and promote, as well as effusively advocating his own money-is-everything ethos.

Harris’ film is something like the ungodly spawn of American Psycho and Trainspotting, with some insider-baseball industry tidbits thrown in to embellish a familiar tale of a disreputable man doing his damndest to legitimize his own corroded worldview. Alas, after ten minutes spent in Steven’s company, he and his story prove so tediously self-satisfied with their own ugliness that they become hopelessly one-note. Steven’s saga involves an endless parade of parties, meetings and office showdowns in which he appears to be constantly on the verge of disaster, only to then miraculously pull himself out of trouble—and, in fact, achieve triumph over his adversaries—by behaving as amorally as possible. Being bad pays, screams Kill Your Friends over and over again, as if this idea alone is enough to generate humor, much less drama.

When not trying to sign and launch a variety of artists, including an obscene electronica loser (Moritz Bleibtreu), a talentless girl group, and a hot, pretentious indie band, Steven attempts to become his label’s A&R chief. When he’s passed over for the position in favor of a junkie idiot (“Late Late Show” host James Corden), he outright kills the man—a crime for which he pays no consequences, since the cop (Edward Hogg) investigating the crime just happens to be an aspiring rocker himself, and thus susceptible to professional bribery. From top to bottom, everyone in Kill Your Friends is a lowlife scumbag either willing to compromise morals in exchange for fortune and fame, or too stupid to do so, and thus deserving (in the film’s opinion) of their unfortunate fate.

Blackmail, child pornography and more murder eventually creep into Kill Your Friends’ plot, but the sheer repetitiveness of its action—and overriding message—is so extreme that the proceedings play out in bludgeoningly unfunny fashion. Hoult embodies his haughty protagonist as the most obnoxious and horrid creature to ever set foot in London, but his monotonous showboating is part and parcel of a project that mistakenly thinks a lot of profanity, ugliness and bloodshed—as well as some era-specific soundtrack songs from Oasis, Radiohead and Ol’ Dirty Bastard—are, in and of themselves, enough to sustain a satire about showbiz ruthlessness.

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