By Kenny Hedges
On it’s 20 year anniversary, Go is a shallow pastiche of Pulp Fiction wannabes.
The year is 1999 and you’re sixteen or so, little on your mind but chilling with friends and attempting to get laid. Bill Clinton is still in office, the economy is running high and the Lewinsky scandal had left politics awash for the first time with nitty gritty details of the sexual proclivities of the President. And Go was the underground cult hit that everyone in high school was telling you to see.
A friend once regaled me with a story about a night in Mexico where he was shot at outside a strip club, arrested and had to bribe his way out of jail. It was mindless, wandering youth gone awry, full of characters too well off to come to their senses. That’s Go in a nutshell.
Doug Liman was just coming off the underdog success of Swingers when he made Go. The former film is much more intelligent, funny and inventive, thanks in large part to Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn’s improvisements. It was the performance that convinced Steven Spielberg Vaugn could carry a film and cast him in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
In three intertwining stories set around a Christmastime rave, Go similarly explores the L.A. underground – albeit a different sector. Ronna (Sarah Polley) is a convenience store clerk who sets up a deal to traffic 20 hits of extacy from Todd (Timothy Olyphant) to Adam and Zack (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf), a gay actor couple who are in a sting operation for Burke (William Fichtner). Meanwhile, Simon (Desmond Askew) and friends head to Vegas for a night of debauchery. Got it? Good. Because the movie moves at the same breathless rate as the last few sentences. It’s only a shame it’s not sharper, or more clever.
On first glance, the most expendable diversion is Simon’s quest, adding little to the story than an excuse to further along the sense of needless, aimless ambition. But it also seems to add some significance of another kind. Simon’s friend (Taye Diggs) discusses tantric sex – the concept of prolonging an encounter to extraordinary lengths by denying oneself an orgasm. And in Vegas, where things move fast and things are constantly on the move, the film comes to a halt. Simon later attempts to achieve tantra, however a hotel fire interupts the whole affair, leading to a strip club, a gunfight and a car chase.
Even delayed gratification is yet further delayed.
In the end, no one gets exactly what they want. Zack and Adam nearly get sucked into an Amway pyramid scheme by Burke, in one of the film’s funniest scenes (and Fichtner is, as always, a blast). Ronna gets hit by a car, but manages to scrape by another day. Simon gets a well-deserved comeuppance and Katie Holmes’ Claire has a quick but ultimately failed relationship with Olyphant. The shallowness beneath everything is ultimately each character’s undoing.
Rave culture was only recently discovered by Hollywood, and there was a freshness to John August’s propensive script that was marketable. It was released to positive reviews, but even the most glowing considered it “Pulp Fiction Jr.”.
20 years on, it feels like a relic of what cinema looked like in the aftermath of Tarantino. It has flourishes of wit, an overabundance of style and very little substance. But it’s one of the better iterations of the era, with the likes of The Boondock Saints being the worst Tarantonian imitation. The casting alone, including a young Melissa McCarthy in her first role and the overqualified Polley and Olyphant, is enough to make the experience relatively painless.
But it’s still very much of its time, dated by the score, the references and the framework.
Go works best as a reflection of the times – an American Graffitti that needs no post-script. We all now what happens next. The same damn thing.
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