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Doug Liman's Go spins its ironic wheels.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

APRIL 19, 1999:  Hipness isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it's possible hipness isn't even hip any more.

Take, for example, the hyperactive caper movie Go, an adrenalized blur of stylishness that tears down the highway for a while but winds up out of gas and miles from nowhere. It looks good; it sounds good; but in the end, it's just another Hollywood fashion victim.

It's a disappointment both because director Doug Liman's first feature was the inventive, unexpected Swingers, and because in Go he has a cast brimming with talent and burning for a place to use it. Unfortunately, everyone involved is trapped in the confines of '90s cool, where everything means less than it appears to because "meaning" anything has itself become uncool.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not pining for big "important" movies; Hollywood still turns out plenty of those, God knows. Steven Spielberg seems to be making a second career out of them. But they're generally as debatably good for us as castor oil, and about as much fun (say what you will, Spielberg's best World War II pic is still Raiders of the Lost Ark). What's missing from movies like Go is not some overarching moral but some basic sense of purpose. You can debate the artistic merits of, say, John Woo's blood-soaked cop operas, but you certainly can't gainsay their passion. They believe in their own crazy romanticism. The tiresome wave of ironic American product, on the other hand—both Hollywood and indie—doesn't seem to believe in much of anything. These self-conscious, self-referential movies are like those Sprite ads that tell you to ignore advertisements. But at least the Sprite ads are selling something.

Go starts out well. The title sequence alone has more energy than a lot of formula filmworks. When it careens to a halt in the aisles of a run-down supermarket, there's a sense of coming back to tired old earth after an intense head rush. The grocery store looks like a real grocery store, the customers like real customers, and actress Sarah Polley as Ronna the cashier looks and acts like a real, irritable, late adolescent cashier. For a little while, Liman explores a world that seems at least adjacent to the one we know, and it's refreshing.

It doesn't take long for things to fray. Within minutes, Ronna has coerced co-worker Claire (Katie Holmes) into a scheme to sell some ecstasy to a couple of frat boy types who happened to wander through her check-out lane. This cliché of amateur kids getting involved in professional crime is the first sign Liman's not really going to show us anything new.

The deciding blow, though, comes after about 30 minutes, when what seemed like a still promising plotline ends abruptly and Liman yanks us back to the beginning of the story so he can follow a different character, a cocky English supermarket flunky named Simon (Desmond Askew) who also deals drugs on the side. Simon isn't nearly as interesting as Ronna and Claire, and the Las Vegas road trip he takes with some pals isn't nearly as much fun as the similar sojourn undertaken in Swingers.

From there, the movie starts to lose steam. It's still full of action, well-placed music, and periodically engaging set pieces, but it all seems familiar. (Some of it is outright plagiarism—a druggy scene of hotel curtains on fire is lifted straight out of Sid and Nancy.)

Will there be scenes in strip clubs and panicky gunplay? Will there be "average guys" getting themselves in big trouble by accident? Will there be offbeat law enforcement agents? Will there be deadpan dialogue about tantric sex and unclean food? Uh-huh. Will any of it have a point? Nope. The movie fits so neatly into the '90s ironic crime genre pioneered by Quentin Tarantino that even the stuff we haven't seen before seems second-hand.

It also has a certain spinelessness. It keeps building up to what could be horrible pay-offs, almost daring you to look, and then pulling its punches at the last minute. I don't mind being spared the gratuitous nastiness, but it begins to seem pretty cheap after a while. The worst is a 10-minute sequence that dangles some intriguing bits of suburban perversity in our faces before copping out with an Amway joke. Ha ha ha.

What's good about Go is that it affirms Liman's capabilities. A few scenes, including a depiction of a bad drug experience that is both funny and frighteningly dead-on, transcend their context. And the cast shows plenty of pluck, especially the resourceful Polley (who was the best thing about The Sweet Hereafter) and Timothy Olyphant as Todd, the drug dealer around whom much of the episodic tale ends up revolving. Olyphant has a razory charm that is simultaneously endearing and threatening.

But in the end, Go undercuts its hopalong frenzy by admitting that none of it really matters. It's like a dope dealer cutting his own personal stash with baking soda. All we can hope is that this particular brand of pre-millennial cool has about played itself out. Some avatars of '90s irony have already moved away from the form (Tarantino let some loopy tenderness creep into Jackie Brown), and with good reason. When you tell people often enough that what you're doing doesn't mean anything, they eventually start to believe you.


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