Friday, December 20, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Thomas Pluck on Go

Merry Crimesmas! Go (1999) dir. Doug Liman

Quentin Tarantino made a lot of movies he never imagined. After Pulp Fiction exploded like Marvin’s head against the rear window glass, we were subjected to a spate of imitators of varying quality, where every crook had a clever nickname (Like Mr Shush in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) and no one could tell a story in a linear fashion, which at least gave us entertaining flicks that are good if you don’t really think about them much, like Memento and The Usual Suspects. (Thankfully, Tony Scott filmed the QT script of True Romance in chronological order and made one of the best QT movies, but we continued to get unnecessary nonlinear storytelling for years afterwards.)

Doug Liman got notice with the Jon Favreau-scripted Swingers, which spoofed the infamous Steadicam shot through the Copacabana in Goodfellas and also inadvertently kicked off a ‘30s swing-dance craze that inflicted the Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies and the Squirrel Nut Zippers upon us all. And when Go, written by John August, mimicked Rashomon and Pulp Fiction with its nonlinear story and point-of-view switching, he was written off as a QT imitation until he made the best of the Bourne movies, the first one, where you can see the fights and enjoy a Mini Cooper chase without needing a vomit bag. (And I like Greengrass, but his Bourne movies suffer in comparison. His style worked perfectly for United 93, a movie I didn’t want but appreciated after watching, but like QT, his micro-cut fight sequence style has been mimicked and inflicted upon us long after he gave it up).

But I’m supposed to talk about Go. It begins at a supermarket where Ronna works with her slacker pals Mannie and Claire, hiding behind the rows of orange juice and playing trivia games to avoid work, snarking at the annoying customers, but unlike the guys in Clerks we actually believe they need these shitty jobs. Ronna (Sarah Polley, Dawn of the Dead) is short on rent and about to be evicted. Polley is perfectly natural in this role, and spouts snarky ‘90s Reality Bites-aware dialogue but makes it work. She’s like us. She’s seen those movies, but exists outside of them. She’s the foundation that will keep the wilder characters grounded.

Her sleazeball Brit-trash drug-dealing coworker offers her his shift with money up front so he can go to Vegas with his supplier’s borrowed (stolen? I wouldn’t put it past sleazy Simon…) credit card, and party with his pals. She hates him but takes it because she’s desperate. Then two sexy small-time actors played by comedian Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf (Party of Five) ask her to get them some X, since Simon was their supplier and he’s off wanking in Vegas (more on that later). Ronna sees a way out of her eviction; she’ll go to Simon’s dealer and buy 20 hits, pay her rent, and party all night at the Mary Sex-Mas rave with her pals. What could go wrong?

Todd Gaines is played by Timothy Olyphant in one of his first bad-boy roles, with devilish sideburns and a perfect asshole attitude. All he’s missing is a pet snake (he has an evil black cat instead) and a loser laughing on his couch playing video games*. “Oh, the good drug dealer!” is what he’ll sarcastically be called by Taye Diggs, the smartest of Simon’s pals in their sequence, which comes later, but I wanted to share here. It’s the perfect description, as Olyphant comes off as a little cuddly with his Santa hat and sardonic comments, but he’s no one to cross. Ronna earnestly tells him her deal (“this is my deal”, sounding like Jerry from Fargo) and he tells her how that’s doing her a favor, and he gives head before he gives favors—a little QT-inspired dialogue, we’ll get more of that later, but never a sickening amount—but she manages to convince him to sell her 20 hits, and to the story’s credit, head is never an option. Ronna has her head on her shoulders. We’re never told she’s a lesbian, but I bet she has jumper cables in that shitbox car she drives (she’s the only friend with a car). She isn’t fazed by sexy shirtless Todd Gaines, and she fends off sleazy Simon’s offer of an extra twenty bucks for a blowjob without even a “you wish,” because she has no interest in sexual power. I wonder, if like Ripley, her character was originally written as male?

When she goes to sell the X, the two actors have a new friend, icy-eyed William Fichtner, and she senses a trap. Cool as a cucumber, seventeen-year-old Ronna dumps the pills down the toilet and chugs the beer the narc offered her, mentioning that she’s underage as a final fuck-you. But then she has no money, no drugs, and Mannie stole two pills of the “medical grade, not crunchy herbal shit” … which will backfire on him later. Not much later, as Ronna always has a plan, and she takes him to a different supermarket to buy allergy pills that look like the X, so she can sell it back to Gaines, no harm no foul. Once the X kicks in on Mannie, we get one of my favorite superfluous movie scenes ever, as he trips in the supermarket and imagines himself dancing the Macarena with the checkout woman:

 Liman knows how to shoot a fun, frenetic scene to music. He outdoes this with the car chase set to Magic Carpet Ride, one of the best set to film, but I get ahead of myself. Let’s just say Ronna sells the drugs back to Todd, then tries to make rent selling fake X at the rave, and he figures it out…and bad things happen to her. He comes seeking revenge, and she’s hit by a Miata as she flees, and he shrugs and is glad his dirty work’s been done for him.

End Ronna, for now. The script cuts to Simon and his douchey pals, with the elder mature leader being Taye Diggs, pre-Private Practice sex bomb. There’s a dialogue interlude with the worst character in the film, a “pretty fly for a white guy” named Tiny, a white guy who acts black. Diggs reacts accordingly, with a line I’ve used often, “if you were any more white, you’d be clear!” It’s not as cringe-inducing as the scene QT wrote for himself in Pulp Fiction, but close. Things get better. Diggs wears a camelhair jacket that makes him look like a valet. And after Simon nearly sets the hotel on fire having tantric sex with two drunken wedding guests, a jerk throws him the keys to his Ferrari and says “park it” … and they of course take it for a joyride to the strip club, to max out “good drug dealer” Todd’s credit card. They also find a gun in the glovebox.

Simon being Simon, they get into the champagne room and nearly immediately kicked out when he grabs the dancer’s ass. There are a lot of nice/ugly touches in the film. The bouncer goes after Diggs, assuming the black guy caused the trouble, when he’s the decent one. Simon pulls out the gun and wings the bouncer, then they are on the run. The “bad guys” have contacts with the cops, and find the hotel they’re in, and chase them all over the strip. Car chases can be boring, but this one is fast and short enough, believable because no one can drive like a stuntman. They escape to L.A., but forgot the credit card… Oops.

We get a brief scene with the older bouncer sewing up his son’s arm as he opines for the old days, when you got ahead by being better than the guy above you… unlike nowadays, when you fuck up so bad that the guy above you can’t do his job! Everyone is a bit of a sad sack here. Todd the drug dealer is kind of playing it by ear, he gets ripped off by a teenager! And these supposedly mobbed up Vegas goons can’t handle two dingbats like Simon and Marcus (Taye Diggs). But it’s a nice interlude, where we see some reality behind the Vegas neon, minor crooks who are acting the role and know they are small fish. But they got reps to protect…

And then we cut to the actors, and learn why they are buying so much orange juice and asking checkout girls for X. They’ve been caught with drugs and Fichtner is a cop using them to set up dealers. The Simon sequence is funny one way, with boobs and fire and lots of screaming, and this one’s funny another way. Like those two dogs in the Goodfellas painting, what do you want from me? They are stuck having a holiday dinner with Fichtner and his wife (Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock) who seem revoltingly wholesome, and then slowly creep them out as swingers (not the dancing kind). Which is funnier because Scott and Adam are gay, and the cop and his wife are the only two who can’t tell right away! They are a couple, and we find out when Fichtner asks about how much tail they get as actors, and Mohr tells him his “girlfriend” is cheating on him, because he found strange socks in his drawer. What Fichtner and wife are up to is a great gag that I won't ruin for you. But once you know it, come back and click this link. When Adam confronts him later, we find out they have been cheating on each other with the same guy, and they plot revenge… they go to his place and find Melissa McCarthy, who cackles with glee, because she’s been following the drama waiting for them to find out. And she tells them that Jimmy’s at a rave …

Guess which one?

The rave sequence is brief but fun, realistic and not mocking (except for the wannabe kids in the parking lot who are getting “high” off Ronna’s allergy medicine). This was the ‘90s. Every cornfield and empty warehouse was full of X, pacifiers, PLUR, and Prodigy at one point. They find Jimmy and get their revenge, and as they are flying away in their Miata, they run over Ronna.


In what could derail the entire film, we spend almost a bit too much time wondering how they’ll deal with the body, and then act like normal people and not someone in a low-budget noir, who would dismember the corpse and hide it in her mom’s minivan. No, they dump her on a Beemer and call 911.

Claire can’t find Ronna or Mannie, so she goes to their usual diner and finds Todd there, who plays it really cool, because Claire is hot for him, and he just tried to shoot her friend, and saw her get run over by a car. But the “good drug dealer” takes her home and as they are about to get busy on the stairs, his evil cat interrupts—isn’t it always the way?—and we see the mobbed up bouncer at the top of the stairs with a gun. In another great scene, it seems like it will turn into something we’ve seen before, then it gets flipped. Todd is drawing directions to send them to Simon’s place! He folds like a napkin. And then Simon shows up asking for a place to hide. This is of course ridiculous timing, but the comic energy keeps it flowing. The old man wants his son to shoot Simon through the arm, for “justice.” Simon is happy to not get killed and helpfully draws an X on his biceps, but the bouncer can’t do it. The dialogue here is more Scorsese than QT. “it’s not as easy when they are just sitting there!

Claire, like Ronna, lives in our world. She’s not a boy playing at being a mobster, a dealer, or whatever Simon is. She has had enough of the stupidity and stomps out. “Look! The girl’s leaving!” the exasperated bouncer dad says, because that’s what all this performance is for, to impress women, who couldn’t give two shits less.

Ronna sneaks out of the hospital without paying her bills, finds Claire and Mannie at the rave when getting her car, and they all pile in together like when the movie started. “What are we doing for New Year’s?

It’s a good question. I would watch that movie, too.

Go suffered from a terrible title (and the explanation for said title is as bad as that old joke, “I’m sick and tired of all these Star Wars!” / “can’t we get beyond thunderdome?” so I won’t even recount it here. But it has a following of right-minded folks like me, who overlook its excesses of dialogue and enjoy its characters and clever script, and its commonalities with The Big Lebowski a year earlier. A gaggle of unlikely characters tangled in an unlikely half-crocked criminal plot, that manages to make fun out of what could be tragedy (eviction, shootings, car crashes, drug overdoses, and cons). There are many ‘90s movies that I can’t even look at now, low-rent Guy Ritchie and Tarantino ripoffs that were amusing enough then. Go holds up and even has a good soundtrack. And unlike Clerks 2, I’d want to see where these people are now.

Mary Sex-Mas!

*dealer stereotype stolen from Lauren Hough. I am too square to know what a dealer’s living room is like, but apparently it’s a lot like guys who sold used vinyl in the classified ads in the ‘90s.

Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie and Blade of Dishonor as well as the short fiction collection Life During Wartime. He is editor of The Protectors anthologies. Keep up with him at his website and follow him on Twitter @thomaspluck.

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