Half the Smarts, Twice the Kick
It’s incredibly rare that a movie that attempts to mine (read: rip-off) an earlier film succeeds as well as Doug Liman’s Go does, but of all the Pulp Fiction retreads, Go rises above. Pulp Fiction, of course, is iconic, a modern classic, one of the best five movies of the last 25 years. No one would dare to suggest that Go is even in the same league. No one would suggest, either, that Green Day is in the same league as the Clash. But to a certain age bracket in 1999, Green Day was more listenable. You could appreciate The Clash, but Green Day was on your car stereo, more geared toward the poseur anarchic sensibilities of the late 90s. Likewise, Go was released at just the right time for me, and it was aimed directly at my demographic: Attention-deficit, early 20-somethings addled by Ritalin and too much MTV. It was lighter, guiltier, and an easier high. It was a quick hit during those times that Tarantino just felt a little heavy, a little too pretentious, and a little too steeped in film-school history. For Go, we didn’t need 42 frames of reference; we only needed one: The five-year old Tarantino classic. Sure: Pulp Fiction posters were on our apartment walls, but Go was in our DVD player.
Doug Liman’s Go (the movie that also launched the career of screenwriter John August, who would go on to become a heavy collaborator with Tim Burton) was Pulp Fiction with a Swingers vibe. It was Tarantino for the suburban mall “Dawson’s Creek,” crowd. Go was chock full of familiar, comfortable faces: Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Taye Diggs, and even Timothy Olyphant. And it was fast-paced, frenetic, and completely artificially flavored. It was one-hundred percent disposable, but like a hot dog on a fucking stick, it was a joy to digest.
The Pulp Fiction comparisons had nothing to do with tone or language (the boldest pop-culture reference that Go made was to The Breakfast Club), but with structure. The similarities between Go and Pulp were intentional and unabashed: Like Fiction, Go began and ended in a diner, and it rewound a day to a certain point in time (Sarah Polley’s Ronna finishing her second shift as a cashier in a supermarket) that acted as a starting point for three different storylines that veered off separately before interlocking.
Ronna agrees to take Simon’s (Desmond Askew) shift at the supermarket so that he can go to Vegas, and she can raise enough money to avoid a Christmas Day eviction. While she’s working his shift, two guys, Adam and Zack (Scott Wolf and Jay Morh), come in looking for Simon, so that they can score some ecstasy off of him. With Simon in Vegas, Ronna goes to his dealer, Todd (Timothy Olyphant) for the pills. One hundred dollars short, Ronna has to leave her best friend, Claire (Katie Holmes), behind with Todd while she delivers the product. The catch: She quickly realizes that Adam and Zack are cops, so she quickly flushes down the pills and, later, to retrieve Claire, she takes back some over-the-counter pills to Todd, which he then realizes later, which prompts him to go after Ronna at a rave.
Meanwhile, Simon — in Vegas with friends (including Breckin Meyer, stealing Seth Green’s character from Can’t Hardly Wait) — pilfers a sports car, along with his buddy, Marcus (Taye Diggs), goes to a strip club, and ends up in a fracas with the bouncer. A chase ensues. Basically, it’s The Hangover: The Short Film.
Elsewhere, Adam and Zack — who aren’t actually cops, but gay actors working with a cop to nab Todd — end up having dinner with the lecherous police officer (William Fichtner) and his creepy wife (Jane Krakowski), before winding up at the same rave that Ronna had previously fled to after leaving Todd the drug dealer’s apartment.
Naturally, all three storylines come together in the end, less successfully, perhaps, than Pulp Fiction, but then again, in a much more believable manner and a less heavy-handed way than Paul Haggis’ Crash.
Lookit: Go Is derivative as hell (it owes a small debt to Boogie Nights as well) but it’s not trying to hide anything. It’s very much meant to be Tarantino, Jr. It’s faster paced, more antic, less complicated, and ultimately, about as deep as a driveway oil spill. But it’s slick. It’s glossy. And it’s energetic as hell. It’s got guns. And drugs. and a killer soundtrack. The performances are sharp (especially Polley’s), ramped up, and lively. The characters dabble in ethically grey areas, but thematically, Go is completely meaningless. It’s frivolous — a backseat fuck with a virtual stranger. Short, power-driven, and sweet; it hits all the right buttons before leaving you on the curb with your pants around your ankles. A little embarrassed, but completely satisfied. And while iIt may be a poor man’s Tarantino, it’s certainly not lazy.