Go (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Go is the latest piece of high-octane eye candy aimed squarely at members of the infamous Generation X. Fast-paced and often witty, but ultimately vapid, Go borrows heavily both in rhythm and approach from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. And, since the 1994 crime movie invested most of its originality into the way it put the pieces together, Go, by following a similar path, cannot claim to be breaking new ground. The 103 minute motion picture features drug dealers, addicts, con men, gamblers, and assorted low lifes; is characterized by a non-linear plot that adds to rather than detracts from the narrative; offers several tangential conversations on strange issues (Tantric sex, the Family Circus, etc.); and attempts a few violently surprising things along the way. Ultimately, however, it lacks Pulp Fiction's edge and the climax is a letdown.

Go is divided into three segments, all of which cover the same limited time span. In the first, Ronna (Sarah Polley) is a grocery store clerk who sees the opportunity to make a few quick bucks by filling in for a low-level drug dealer friend, Simon (Desmond Askew), who's out of town. Thinking she has a deal with two actors, Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf), she goes to Simon's supplier, Todd (Timothy Olyphant), to get a stash of pills. Unable to pay in full, she leaves a hefty downpayment, then promises the rest within an hour. Once she goes to sell the drugs, however, Ronna smells a police set-up and flushes them down a toilet. Left with no pills and no money, what's a girl to do? Improvise! Unfortunately, the drug dealer isn't as clueless as she hopes he is.

Meanwhile, Simon is in Las Vegas along with his friend, Marcus (Taye Diggs). After losing most of their money gambling, they pay a visit to a strip club, where they promptly order "champagne" (a code word meaning a private dance). Ignoring the house rules, Simon grabs at one of the girls, causing a bouncer to arrive on the scene. A brawl quickly turns into a gunfight, then Simon and Marcus are on the run with the bad guys in hot pursuit.

The third episode, which ties up loose ends in the other two in addition to resolving its own mini-storyline, involves the two actors who try to buy the pills from Ronna. It turns out that they're reluctant participants in a police sting, but their night only gets stranger once the drug bust goes sour. Instead of heading out to a party, they're forced to join a cop (William Fichtner) and his sexually hyperactive wife (Jane Krakowski) for dinner. At the table, the conversation gradually turns towards recruiting Zack and Adam as distributors for Confederated Products (an Amway clone).

The first half-hour of Go is top-notch entertainment - lively, energetic, and involving. The second half-hour, while not as good, introduces enough unexpected twists to keep audience enjoyment high. Sadly, it all falls apart in the ill-advised third act, which, in addition to being badly paced, offers little in the way of humor or action. Yes, everything is neatly tied together, and there is an unanticipated turn of plot, but it's not enough. This 30 minutes of dull, repetitive filler significantly blunt the film's overall impact. The proceedings conclude with a fizzle, punctuated by the most optimistic finale that can be culled from the circumstances. In general, I don't have anything against happy endings, but they have to fit the movie. In Go, the cheer and good will of the closing scenes feels forced and artificial.

The best move on the part of the film makers is the casting of up-and-coming actress Sarah Polley (the paraplegic in The Sweet Hereafter) in a key role. Their worst move is letting her all-but-disappear after the first half-hour. It's surely no coincidence that the strongest parts of the movie feature Polley. She's the kind of actress who can make inferior material look good. Joining her in the ensemble cast are the likes of Desmond Askew and Taye Diggs (Angela Bassett's squeeze in How Stella Got Her Groove Back), both of whom are quite good, and Katie Holmes, who doesn't do much more than wander around looking stoned or lost, depending on the scene. Timothy Olyphant is effective as Todd the drug dealer, who's not as vicious as he wants everyone to believe. Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf are annoying as the two actors whose inept attempt to score a little dope lands them in hot water.

Go is not without its backers. The film was one of the high profile debuts at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, where it not only packed a 1300-seat theater but left hundreds of dissatisfied fans out in the cold (literally), unable to get into the auditorium. Eager attendees, many in their 20s, waited up to three hours to capture one of several hundred coveted wait list tickets, and the level of enthusiasm inside was high. Early reports indicated that Go was a big hit with the audience, but, considering that it was playing to its target demographic, that's not a big surprise. Consequently, the film comes with a better pedigree than it deserves.

Go is directed by Doug Liman, whose overrated sophomore feature, Swingers, was an independent hit in 1996. This movie has a lot in common with that one - a similar style, the same reliance upon Tarantino, and a plot arc that goes from L.A. to Vegas and back. Rather than trying to do something different, Liman has used the larger budget to expand upon his Swingers approach. The result, while flashier, isn't notably better or worse. Those who enjoyed Swingers and/or the Tarantino films have a chance to be entertained (although not overwhelmed) by Go. Others will not be impressed. If you see this film, do so for Sarah Polley and Liman's occasionally amusing pop culture references. There's enough here that, while Go doesn't deserve a green light, I can see giving it a yellow one.

Go (United States, 1999)

Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf, Taye Diggs, William Fichtner, J.E. Freeman, Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant
Screenplay: John August
Cinematography: Doug Liman
Music: BT
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 1999-04-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Drugs, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1