Talented cast makes up for the film's shortcomings
Starring: Desmond Askew, Taye Diggs, William Fichtner, J.E. Freeman, Katie Holmes, Jane Krakowski, Breckin Meyer, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Polley, Scott Wolf, James Duval, Nathan Bexton, Jay Paulson, and Jimmy Shubert
Screenplay: John August
Producers: Matt Freeman, Mickey Liddell, and Paul Rosenberg
Director: Doug Liman
MPAA Rating: R for strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and some violence
In 1999 alone, we will see more movies concerning teenagers than ever before in the history of cinema. Even the John Hughes-era of the '80s, when they were incredibly popular, didn't have this many. Just four months into the year, and we've had over ten motion pictures featuring a plot dealing with the trials of being teenagers. Most of these films deal with high school, and they almost always have the climactic events occur at Senior Prom. So, yes it is refreshing to see Go, which never once mentions high school throughout its 103 minute run. Go is a terrific example of what I call the "Rollercoaster Syndrome." It takes you on one wild ride, brings you right back to where you started, you get off, and the next day, you've forgotten you ever rode it.
But what a ride it is. For 103 minutes, Go never slows down, and it doesn't pause for the audience to catch up. For once, we have a film aimed at teenagers that doesn't undermine the intelligence of the audience. It basically expects the audience to think and remember--and believe me, you'll need to remember. Go takes the Pulp Fiction approach to filmmaking, ridding itself from the restraints of time. The plot consists of three different segments, each of which are told from three different characters (and all within a 24 hour period). These segments interact with each other, as events from one segment crossover and become crucial in the other two. It's smart in this respect; in others, it is downright stupid.
The first segment follows Ronna (Sarah Polley), a cashier working at a local Los Angeles grocery store. She hates her job, as every teenager does. But she has to pay rent, and if she doesn't get $380 by Christmas, she'll be evicted. Opportunity comes a'knockin' in the form of fellow co-worker/low-life drug dealer Simon (Desmond Askew), who pleads with her to take his shift. He has plans to drive to Las Vegas with three of his friends. She accepts, unknowing of what she has just gotten herself into. Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf), two gay soap opera stars, approach Ronna, looking for Simon who normally hooks them up with drugs. Ronna, seeing the chance to raise enough money to pay for her rent, tells them that she will hook them up. She goes to Simon's drug dealer Todd (Timothy Olyphant) and offers him two hundred plus collateral for twenty pills. Unfortunately, things aren't exactly as they appear to be, and Ronna must flush the pills before the deal goes down.
The second segment follows Simon as he and his three friends Marcus (Taye Diggs), Singh (James Duval), and Tiny (Breckin Meyer) travel to Vegas for gambling, drinking, and sex. For most of this segment, Singh and Tiny are left out of the equation, spending most of their time wasted in a hotel room. Simon and Marcus lose most of their money gambling, and then steal a sleek sports car after Marcus is mistaken for a valet parking attandant. This all leads up to a scene inside a strip club, where Marcus specifically tells Simon not to ask for a "champagne," the code word for a private lap dance. Of course, Simon asks for one, and the scene climaxes with a bloody shooting.
The third segment follows the aforementioned Zack and Adam as we discover exactly what their motives are for buying the drugs. Turns out that they are in trouble with the law themselves, being setup to catch a drug dealer in the act. The officer in charge, Burke (William Fichtner), won't let Zack and Adam off the hook, and insists that they come to his house for dinner. There, his oversexed wife Irene (Jane Krakowski) and he explain their ulterior motives for bringing them home... but I'll let you find out why. This segment contains the most surprises of them all, and some terrific acting from both Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf.
Where Pulp Fiction seemed mostly a director's exercise, Go could be considered an actor's exercise. Director Doug Liman has gathered an amazing amount of talent here. His smartest move is placing up-and-coming actress Sarah Polley as Ronna. Polley, who made a lasting impression in 1997's The Sweet Hereafter, has consistently shown the ability to improve the material that she must work with. She's the only character that we care about, since her motives for getting the drugs are grounded in reality. Scott Wolf is superb as Adam--this proves that he's got the talent and not just the good looks (though he is extremely gifted in physical appearance as well). Wolf could easily be described as a young Tom Cruise. Jay Mohr is also great as Zack, and he works extremely well with Wolf. Taye Diggs is very strong as Marcus, showing that his talent in How Stella Got Her Groove Back was no fluke. Timothy Olyphant makes for a surprisingly sympathetic drug dealer, exuding charm in every scene. Jane Krakowski, from TV's Ally McBeal, is hilarious in her few scenes, as is William Fichtner, who continues to give good performances no matter how poor the material may be. And of course, Katie Holmes, giving a small but subtle performance as an innocent bystander to everything that occurs. It's a top-notch cast that bolsters the screenplay.
Doug Liman directs Go with an assured hand and does about as good a job as one might expect of the material. Unfortunately, Liman also works as the cinematographer (which sounds like my dream job), filming everything with a frantic pace that gets jarring to the point of annoying. His camerawork is so spastic that at times it was insanely hard to understand what was going on. At other times, he captures some beautiful images. It's just not enough. Liman underplays everything with a dark sense of humor, which occasionally seems appropriate. Unfortunately, where Pulp Fiction was extremely funny, Go is extremely shocking, especially during one moment when Ronna is run down by a car. It's played up for laughs, but it isn't funny in the least. Of course, this may just be a result of the screenplay by John August. His script weaves in and out of each scenario, layering everything until the optimistic climax that leaves you feeling good in the end. August's dialogue is strong, but where he goes wrong is in the second segment, where logic and intelligence seems to be thrown out the window. His characters don't seem clearly defined--sometimes, they are smart; sometimes, they are not.
Go is rated R for strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and some violence. The sex and nudity is surprisingly uncalled for--it seems more of a plea to keep viewers watching (since, of course, the target audience wants to watch this sort of stuff). There's everything from straight sex to lesbian sex (although the latter occurs during the straight sex scenes). Originally, the film contained a sex scene involving Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf, but this was cut before it was released. Apparently, director Liman felt the scene to be unnecessary for the plot to work--of course, he doesn't realize that every sex scene in the film is unnecessary for the plot to work. This is a very male-oriented film, targeted towards teen males. For those who may want to check out the Wolf-Mohr scene, it will be included on the DVD version. As is, however, Go succeeds in entertaining, taking us on a perpetual ride of surprises and humor. It's no where near the quality of Pulp Fiction, but it'll do. Call this the "teen version of Pulp Fiction."
*** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie