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Go (1999)

by on 2011/12/23

“Pardon me if I’m not in a holly jolly mood.”

* * * *

It shone brightly for a bit, but Go is the kind of thing that worries me. It will probably live on, perhaps as a footnote to Doug Liman, whose body of work includes the 2000s Bourne series, 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the one it most resembles, 1996’s proto-bromance Swingers. But Go deserves much better.

Frequently compared to Pulp Fiction — a reasonable observation — it nonetheless stakes a unique claim to the nonlinear ensemble party, a trend no less worthy of attention than “found footage” storytelling. (Certainly it ranks above 3D in my view.)

Viewed through the prism of Nineties youth, the movie follows the misadventures of nearly a dozen different people, roughly organized into three social groupings. Several work in a grocery store, in a drudgerous Chad Vader world. Others are into gambling. The rest of them are (sort of) in law enforcement. None is particularly stable.

All roads lead to Rome, as they say, and this anthology’s Rome is a rave, a Christmas dance for teens, infused with neon and techno and drugs. The three major plots, and minor threads, wind around, converge upon, and intersect at the party.

The various tales diverge from a common point, then trace their own ways to the end. Time jumps back and forth, events and characters overlap, and every thing that could go wrong almost always does, at least until it gets a whole lot worse.

Most of these complications result from . . . shall we say “poor life decisions”? Yet this judgement-impaired generation somehow avoids being flat or frustrating. The entire affair might as easily have been called Attractive Young Singles Repeatedly Making Mistakes.

That attractive young cast is full of ringers, many at the peak of their prowess, including Taye Diggs, William Fichtner, Katie Holmes, Jane Krakowski, Breckin Meyer, Jay Mohr, and Scott Wolf.

Special mention must be made of two more in particular. Sarah Polley (Splice) as Ronna Martin demonstrates why she’s earned her indie goodwill. She embodies an awesome combination of scared, stupid, smart, and strong, a multifaceted performance which could have veered into inconsistency with a far less capable actor. The other standout is Timothy Olyphant (Live Free or Die Hard), as the calm, terrifying Todd Gaines, a “good guy” drug dealer, as one of his customers claims.

It would also be difficult for me to divorce the experience from its soundtrack. More than just the background Muzak to score its featured subculture, it lends a sense of emotion and tone, reflects the jumping narrative, and sets a template for the post-work effects and editing. From the opening stutter of Lionrock’s “Fire Up the Shoesaw” through Philip Steir’s take on Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, I rarely hear a song-based movie as unobtrusively attention-grabbing as this one. Air, Esthero, Fatboy Slim, and Leftfield are among the others I most enjoyed.

In fact, there’s almost nothing here I disliked. Don’t make the mistake of abandoning Go to the also-ran Nineties bin. A triumph of black comedy about what not to do after hours, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. And while I doubt I’d like the characters in real life — or perhaps because of it — I had great fun watching them stumble, struggle, and stand.

May the neon green Santa forgive our Schadenfreude.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

102 minutes

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