GO (1999) / Crime-Comedy

Running Length: 103 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for strong drug content, sexuality, language, and violence.

Cast: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf, William Fichtner, Desmond Askew, Timothy Olyphant, Taye Diggs, Breckin Meyer
Director: Doug Liman
Producers: Matt Freeman, Paul Rosenberg, Mickey Liddell
Screenplay: John August

After finding almost immediate success with his smash hit Swingers, director Doug Liman went on to make the ambitious Go, in which he tried yet again to appeal to the indie crowd. Sure, Go is hip, stylish, kinetic, cool, crazy, wild. The camerawork is handheld and frenetic, dashing in between different characters and places with an almost documentary-like feel. The dialogue is snappy, clever, and sardonic, and spoken by characters that seem to always be in a rush. Trouble escalates as the film progresses. Things get out of hand. Characters are thrust into situations that they would rather not be in. But as fast-paced and funny as their misadventures sometimes are, Go is never quite as impressive or involving as it wants or tries to be. It packs the punch that Swingers had, but lacks the heart.

Like a junior Pulp Fiction, the storyline of Gois divided into segments, each one focusing on a different set of characters and their perspectives on the night of a botched drug deal. In the first segment, Ronna (Sarah Polley) is a grocery store clerk in need of some quick cash, otherwise she’s facing eviction. Her chance to score comes when she’s approached by a couple of actors looking for Simon (Desmond Askew), a small-time drug dealer that’s out of town. They need drugs and she needs money, so she decides to fill in for Simon and get the drugs herself from Todd (Timothy Olyphant), Simon’s supplier. Unfortunately, Ronna’s a hundred bucks short and has to leave her friend Claire (Katie Holmes) behind as collateral while she goes off to collect the rest of the money. Problems arise when the deal turns out to be a set-up and Ronna’s forced to flush the drugs down the toilet.

The setting then moves to Las Vegas for the film’s second segment, where we focus on Simon and his friend Marcus (Taye Diggs) as they engage in various escapades across the city. After losing most of their money to gambling, the two steal a car and travel to a strip club, where they order a private room. But after Simon ignores the rules and “touches” the merchandise, he and Marcus are forced to flee the premises with the bad guys on their tail.

The tone of Go changes with its third and final chapter. It deals with the actors from the first segment, Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr), who turn out to be only involved in the sting operation so that their own drug charges are dropped. After the deal goes south, their night continues, but gets weirder. They are invited to dinner by a cop (William Fichtner) and his wife (Jane Krakowski), who turn out to be advocates of a retail company. They manage to escape, but are quickly confronted with the implications of a hit-and-run.

The main successes of Go can be found in the film’s first episode, where the stars shine the brightest and the direction is the keenest. From there, the plot unravels and gradually loses steam. The transition from the first segment to the second is drastic. (In fact, it almost seems as if the two were written by entirely different people.) The dialogue feels forced and the characters are unlikable. It resorts to low-brow humor in order to garner laughs and doesn’t deliver quite as much as the first half-hour does. Consider a scene where Simon is forced to run through the hotel fully naked after the room he was having sex in bursts into flames. These are the kinds of antics that are overused to the point of being predictable and unfunny, and they simply do not belong in a film like Go.

Now, I would like to say that the third act gets better, but it doesn’t. It basically mirrors the events of the first two episodes, but does it with less excitement. It’s uniform and repetitive and still sub-par when compared with the first half-hour. In terms of resolution, it works. It manages to adequately connect the pieces and end the movie on a lighter note. But is ending the movie on a lighter note what we want? Is an upbeat ending what a film like this should have? It feels phony and put-on and doesn’t fit the mood. Look, I’m all for catharsis, but I’d rather have an ending that’s straightforward and depressing rather than one that I don’t believe.

Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes have the two best performances. (Their characters are the two that most obviously represent the Generation X crowd that Go appeals to.) They bring the most enthusiasm and likability to their characters, and it’s disappointing that they have so little screen time. As for the rest of the cast, Taye Diggs and Timothy Olyphant (who I’ve found to be a pretty reliable actor) both do a pretty good job. Desmond Askew is serviceable, despite my disdain for his accent, and Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr are intolerable for the most part. Their characters are arguably the most uninteresting of the bunch. (I cite them as the one of the major downfalls of the third act as well.)

The worst part yet is how much I wanted to like Go. From the opening shot, I was hooked. I thought I was getting into something really good. Doug Liman is such a gifted and well-equipped director, and even though his career choices of late have been a bit poor, Go certainly exudes a fair amount of style. Even though it may borrow a lot of itself from Pulp Fiction, it stays original for the most part, especially in the visual aspect, and there are some qualities about it that are likable.

Final rating: ★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest


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