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Raving About 'Go'

[whitespace] Go
Tracy Bennett

Caution to the Wind: Ronna (Sarah Polley) gets her feet wet in 'Go.'

'Go' captures the exuberant ecstasy of nothing-to-lose youth

By Michelle Goldberg

LOOKING AT ITS plucked-from-prime-time cast, potential audiences may by tempted to dismiss Go as just another teensploitation flick. To do so, though, would be akin to writing off Pulp Fiction as just another crime caper, or Trainspotting as just another black comedy. An amalgam of those two movies, Go triumphs because of its exhilarating pacing, darkly screwball high jinks, deadpan dialogue and hyperreal stylization.

Teenagers will love Go, because the film captures the wild, nothing-to-lose exuberance that is adolescence at its best. But those who grew up a decade or two before raves and the Ecstasy explosion will dig it, too, for the energetic filmmaking and the appealing characters, all of whom are recognizable people instead of types. Go offers the flip side of the vicious status melodramas currently clogging theaters. Those films focus on the constricting sadism of high school, while Go is about the liberating freedom that comes when school is finally out.

Director Douglas Liman is famous for Swingers, the comedy about Hollywood hipsters several years the senior of Go's characters. Aside from launching Vince Vaughn's career, Swingers is largely responsible for adding the obnoxious expression "you're so money" to the pop lexicon and for aiding and abetting the spread of the retro movement--without Swingers, we would likely all have been spared the Gap's odious swing kids khaki commercials. Perhaps because the lounge movement itself seemed like such an insubstantial fad, Swingers never rang particularly true to me, certainly not the way Go does.

Not that Go is plausible--that's not really the point in a movie this delirious and rambunctious. It's just that the mood and the fantasy of Go are so apt. The film unfolds like the most exciting day and night of your life, squared. At first, the tri-part structure comes across as a bit too Tarantinoesque, but it fits together so beautifully that the film never feels overly gimmicky.

Go begins in a supermarket on Christmas Eve, where 18-year-old Ronna (the remarkable Sarah Polley from The Sweet Hereafter) needs to make a few hundred dollars quick or face eviction. She's filling in for co-worker and part-time E dealer Simon (Desmond Askew), who's off carousing in Vegas.

When two of Simon's customers show up saying they need 20 hits for a rave that night, Ronna sees an easy way out of her troubles. Soon she's made an ill-fated deal with Simon's coolly diabolical drug connection, Todd (Timothy Olyphant), leaving her best friend, Claire (Dawson's Creek's Katie Holmes), behind as insurance.

Meanwhile, Simon, an impish, carefree Brit, is wreaking damage worthy of Hunter S. Thompson with three buddies (including Greg Araki favorite James Duval) and a car stolen in a moment of reckless spontaneity. And Ronna's would-be customers, Adam (Party of Five's Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr), have been roped into a sting operation by a closeted cop obsessed with Amway-style multilevel marketing schemes. The boys, soap opera stars both, are soon revealed to be lovers whose familiar rapport has grown strained with romantic suspicion.

Happily, there's no dreary moral in Go, although the film is not at all callous or nihilistic. In their own loose, goofy ways, most of the characters do something approaching the right thing. Zack, for instance, tips off Ronna before she can be ensnared by the cop, and Claire figures out a darkly genius compromise to spare Simon the wrath of the enraged strip-club owners who pursue him from Vegas.

The bad behavior on display in Go is the kind that kids either indulge in or regret missing when they've grown dull and middle-aged. In one hysterical scene, Ronna scams a vanload of candy ravers with $20 cold pills. In another bit, Simon wanders into a wedding chapel and seduces two bridesmaids by pretending to be a clueless jolly Irishman.

'I COMPLETELY RELATED to the script," says Askew, who plays Simon with such good-hearted Ritalin-child charm that even his more inexcusable capers seem like the endearing foibles of an adorable roué.

"It's all about being 18," Askew continues. "Simon has never had the weight of life on his shoulders. There's not a practical bone in his body. Go doesn't have a moral. It's a picture of life. We're not trying to encourage anything or discourage anything; it's just a reflection on what it's really like to be 18."

Being English and 26, Askew went through his own rave phase. "I was quite familiar with it, though not from recent times. I went through that scene from when I was 16 to when I was 19." Part of why Go feels so much more relevant than Swingers is that though the rave scene has already largely petered out, it's still the one pop-culture phenomenon that belongs wholly to the '90s.

Ecstasy is to many kids what pot and acid were to their parents, and for a brief time raving felt almost epochal. Go pokes fun at the scene, but gently and from an insider's perspective. It's very rare for an American movie to be so matter-of-fact about drugs, to understand that, for better or worse, chemically inspired misadventures are a cherished part of adolescence for many of us.

"There are always going to be common experiences for people in their teens and early 20s, but then there are also going to be generational differences, and every generation feels unique when they're going through that transition to adulthood," Askew says.

Liman gets the balance between the universal teenage experience and the late-'90s urban teenage experience just right. Even though the rave scene itself is pretty passé, Go itself is remarkably fresh. The film's subcultural specificity will thrill those who see themselves in the kids onscreen, but Go's manic charge will also delight those who have no idea of the difference between MDMA and Special K.

Go (R; 100 min.), directed by Douglas Liman, written by John August, photographed by Jeffrey Clark and starring Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew, Scott Wolf, and Taye Diggs, opens Friday valleywide.

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From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro.

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