By Owen Gleiberman
Updated May 19, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Pop music has been teen-idoled, car-commercialed, and generally overpackaged to the point of suffocation, yet there’s always room for a new, annoying trend in soundtrack-driven youth-pulse movies. Call the latest one the cute-ification of rock & roll. The characters in Human Traffic are club kids in Cardiff, Wales, who live for the weekend, when they can take Ecstasy and dance their way into blissful oblivion. They view themselves as fashionably ”desperate” rebels, and yet, like the record-store scholars of High Fidelity, they’re so self-conscious about living for the music that they give off a vibe of winsome nerdishness that I’m not at all sure the filmmakers intended. Hip yet perky, they’re cheerleaders of cool, poking their puppy-punk faces into the camera to express their harmless, gee-whiz iconoclasm, and emitting nuggets of bouncy bloke preciousness like ”We’re going to get more spaced out than Neil Armstrong ever did!” Wild!

Crammed with broadly surreal fantasy sequences, and shot in a showy, candy-colored style that’s too dependent on camera trickery (wide-angle shots, spinning rooms) and that only hypes the facile rhythms of its dialogue, Human Traffic can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be Trainspotting or Friends. That’s a problem, considering that the characters in the first would gladly beat the crap out of those in the second. The closest the movie comes to having a center is poor, beleaguered Jip (John Simm), a remarkably boisterous victim of self-described sexual paranoia who is too terrified to let himself go all the way with a girl. It’s typical of the filmmakers’ strategy that Jip is every bit as ironic in his impotence as the others are in their what-the-hell hedonism. There are some zinging techno tunes in Human Traffic, but unlike the forthcoming, San Francisco-set rave comedy Groove, the movie is too cute to lose its head in the music. It never generates its own ecstasy. C