Don't you hate it when you're trying to buy drugs for someone and you get held up by weirdo cops, stalked by psycho junkies and run down by a car and left in a ditch for dead? Yes, sometimes life is just SO unfair. So it is with Ronna (Sarah Polley), a down on her luck grocery cashier in turn of the century Los Angeles. She takes her grimy, minimum wage job as seriously as any disaffected twentysomething - working long shifts, glowering contemptuously at customers and filching store merchandise on her breaks. So it’s no surprise to find out Ronna is a little behind on her rent, and is a day away from living on the street. It’s not exactly a charmed life, so when a solution presents itself Ronna jumps on it.
Viking Night: Go
By Bruce Hall
September 13, 2011
Her coworker and occasional friend Simon (Desmond Askew, looking like a ginger Jude Law) offers to give up his shift, plus cash up front if she will fill in for him while he slips off to Vegas with friends. Ronna’s already been on for 14 hours but a buck’s a buck, so she takes the deal. Unfortunately, Simon is also a small time pusher, picking up a little scratch on the side from the slimeballs he meets checking out orange juice and menthols at his register. Two of those slimeballs, Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) show up looking for their usual score and find Ronna instead of Simon. Adam and Zach are on their way to a rave (remember those?) and they need to score some Ecstasy (remember that?) bad.
Desperate for money, Ronna pretends she knows what to do and concocts a cunning plan. She arranges to use Simon’s dealer to hook up the boys AND score enough money to cover her rent. It should be immediately obvious to anyone with a brain that things are going to go terribly wrong. But when you’re in Ronna’s situation (and who hasn’t been?) brains take a backseat to Benjamins. So despite the advice of her slightly less foolish friends, Ronna dips her toes into the wonderful world of drugs and violence. But she finds that Simon’s dealer Todd (Timothy Olyphant) is an experienced seller of perceptual enhancements and is therefore not impressed with her amateurish pitch. Meaning of course, Ronna gets the pills, but leaves behind her friend Claire (Katie Holmes) as collateral when it turns out she doesn’t quite have the money to cover her order.
Drugs in hand, Ronna heads for the meet with Adam and Zach, hoping to get the rest of the money and complete the transaction. Only she finds that the drop is a setup. The drugs get ditched, but Ronna finds a way to get her money back from Todd and heads to the rave herself, where she sells a handful of aspirin to a room full of drug fiends for a tidy profit. Unfortunately, Todd uncovers the deception and from there - it’s on. The movie might have been over at this point but Go is the handiwork of Doug Liman, the wunderkind who brought us Swingers back in 1996. But as I have often discussed in this column, back then you weren’t anybody until you’d ripped off Tarantino - and Liman was no exception to this. Go isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t nearly as clever or interesting as Swingers, and the shameless aping of Pulp Fiction is a bit of a shame coming from someone who created one of the defining independent films of the 1990s.
But it’s more than that. Like Pulp Fiction, Go’s three acts are devoted to telling the same story from three convergent points of view. The first act deals with Ronna and her increasingly incompetent efforts to style herself as a professional drug dealer. The second act inexplicably diverts us to Las Vegas, where Simon and his friends get into all sorts of amusing trouble, but it all seems entirely peripheral to the point of the story. The film’s entire middle section feels like irrelevant padding, and it tries just a little too hard to be cool. The diversion isn’t terrible, but it ultimately weakens the film. The third act focuses on Adam and Zach and while it feels more germane to the narrative, it isn’t until the last 20 minutes of the film that we get back to the point, which was what the hell happened to Ronna, Todd and Claire. It all kind of ends up feeling like a waste of time. But it isn’t all bad.
Go is a bit like an old Saturday Night Live sketch where you can pick out several people on screen who went on to become at least somewhat famous. Sarah Polley is a respected indie film maker. Jay Mohr fills in for Jim Rome from time to time, Timothy Olyphant is in demand and Katie Holmes married a famous extraterrestrial. I guess that’s interesting. Go is also something of a time capsule for the '90s: Hootie and the Blowfish, Lenny Kravitz, soy burgers, the Mazda Miata, beepers, raves, glo-stiks, tantric sex, a British guy in the cast for no reason...it’s like turning the calendar back to a simpler, more derivative time. But in the final analysis, Go is one of those movies where I find myself distracted by thoughts like “If this happened five years later and only two of the characters had cell phones, most of the horrible things that happened would NOT have happened”.
So while I do technically enjoy it, when your mind wanders that much while watching a 12-year-old movie, it means the thing hasn’t aged well.
But it’s okay. Like most homages to Pulp Fiction, there’s a lot of pointless self referential conversation, impromptu ultra-violence, reckless irony, mistaken identity, abject racism, knockoff designer fragrances, and seemingly unrelated storylines that make you forget what the movie was about in the first place...but somehow when it’s all over, it works. This is because just like Swingers - and unlike Pulp Fiction - Go is a lot of sound and fury that leaves its own universe largely intact and unchanged at the end. It’s like a television episode, where no matter how bad things get you know it’ll all get solved in time for the last commercial and next week, everything will be right back the way it was. It’s anticlimactic, harmless fun and it contains one of the most amusing wine references since A Clockwork Orange.
Now, if a movie can remind you of Pulp Fiction AND A Clockwork Orange and STILL make you laugh, it’s got to be worth watching once, right?