MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Sarah Polley (Ronna Martin), Katie Holmes (Claire Montgomery), Jay Mohr (Zack), Scott Wolf (Adam), Timothy Olyphant (Todd Gaines), Desmond Askew (Simon Baines), Taye Diggs (Marcus), James Duval (Singh), William Fichtner (Burke), Jimmy Shubert (Victor Jr.), J.E. Freeman (Victor Sr.), Breckin Meyer (Tiny), Jane Krakowski (Irene), Nathan Bexton (Mannie), Jay Paulson (Loop)
"Things didn't go exactly as planned," says Ronna near the end of Doug Liman's "Go," essentially summarizing the movie's theme. If "Go"--a "Pulp Fiction"-like triad of stories that take place more or less simultaneously in one 24-hour period--has any thematic coherence, it is precisely summed up in that statement. A botched drug deal, a failed drug bust, and a crisis in Las Vegas--nothing in "Go" goes as planned. The connecting strand of the three stories isn't so much the interlocking relationships of the various characters, but the fact that all the characters are incompetent in their own unique ways, which leads to disastrous results of every sort.
The three stories all begin at a supermarket in Los Angeles, where aimless twentysomething Ronna (Sarah Polley) and her friend, Claire (Katie Holmes), work the check-out lines. Ronna is about to be evicted from her apartment, and needs to come up with $380. She sees her chance when two B-level actors, Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf), ask her about buying some drugs because their usual contact, an obnoxious British co-worker named Simon (Desmond Askew), has taken off for a night in Las Vegas.
Ronna ends up scoring 20 hits of ecstasy from Todd (Timothy Olyphant), Simon's drug contact. From there the deal goes all wrong in every possible manner, and it climaxes at a wild, drug-infested party. At this point, the movie cuts to Simon's adventure in Las Vegas with three friends, Singh (James Duval); Marcus (Taye Diggs), who is black; and Tiny (Breckin Meyer), a white guy who thinks he's black (a tired joke, to say the least). Simon's night turns out to be even worse than Ronna's because, by the time it's over, he and Marcus are driving a stolen Ferrari pursued by an angry bouncer from a topless bar who Simon shot in the arm.
The movie then spins back to Los Angeles to explain where Zack and Adam came from, and how they happened to be buying drugs from Ronna. Of course, nothing about them is what it seems, and most of their story is a comedy of misunderstanding and false assumptions that hinges heavily on homoerotic overtones and sexually laced double entendres. It also features a creepily hilarious performance by William Fichtner as a strange police officer who invites Zack and Adam to a Christmas dinner.
Like "Pulp Fiction," it is difficult to summarize "Go" without giving away its many secrets; of course, this is what gives the movie its kick. John August's screenplay isn't nearly as intricately plotted or difficult to piece together as Quentin Tarantino's 1994 masterpiece to which "Go" owes so much debt. August keeps the time frame moving in a linear fashion; that is, he doubles back to retell the same story from different points of view in "Rashomon"-like style, but he keeps the three tales separate until the end, and he tells each one from start to finish.
Director Doug Liman seems most at home in the middle story, which takes place in Las Vegas, the same setting as the beginning of his debut film, the hilarious "Swingers" (1996). Liman has an eye for mania, and he piles on the neuroses, panic, and confusion. The movie is never so hectic and involving as when Simon and Co. are trapped in their hotel room with the angry bouncer outside, and they have to wait while a foul-mouthed 10-year-old in the adjoining rooms counts the $100 they just gave him to open the door.
The last story of the trio, involving Zack and Adam, is interestingly enough the weakest, because it tries the hardest to be comedic. It's surprising this aspect of the film falls the flattest because Liman showed such a flair for physical and verbal comedy in "Swingers." There are moments here and there, but the movie doesn't pick up speed again until it drops the Zach/Adam tale and ties together the loose ends of both the Ronna drug deal story and Simon's nightmare in Vegas, which culminate together in Todd's dingy apartment.
"Go" certainly packs a punch; it's designed that way from the start, with the opening credits flashing at you against a backdrop of rampant party edited MTV-style, all set to pulse-pounding, head-drumming techno music. Liman tries to keep the pace at this high tension level the entire movie, and he almost succeeds. When the beat dips, it's painfully obvious because the rest of the film is so fast-paced and furious. Liman almost sets himself up for any let-downs.
The characters are portrayed by popular TV stars like Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek") and Scott Wolf ("Party of Five"), up-and-comers like Taye Diggs ("How Stella Got Het Groove Back") and Breckin Meyer ("54"), and indie actors like Sarah Polley ("The Sweet Hereafter"), thus giving the movie a distinctly eclectic taste. As an enjoyable crime caper that it just a few steps off the beaten path, "Go" is a hard movie to pin down; but, that's what's good about it. It's not really a comedy, it's not exactly a thriller, and it's not quite the Tarantino rip-off as its detractors will try to label it. "Go" is inspired by other movies, but it is certainly it's own creature.
©1999 James Kendrick