Go is the one truly thrilling movie I’ve seen so far this year. The director, Doug Liman, who traced the mating strategies of a neo-rat pack in the indelibly funny and incisive Swingers (1996), here sends a dozen young Los Angeles troublemakers out into the night, wolfish and hungry, up for anything that will make them feel alive. The movie follows them into squalid drug lairs, pulsating techno clubs, and undercover police stings, and then on to Las Vegas, where we watch a crew of would-be swingers as they party, fight, screw, and bluster their way through casinos and backroom lap dances. Everyone on screen is out for kicks, and so is Liman, who seems to be staring, entranced, right along with the audience, as if he’d staged each scene simply because he had to watch it.
In Go, taboos are teasing formalities that the movie smashes through like fences at a stock-car race. Even the story gets smashed, as the movie repeats — or, at least, overlaps — events from different points of view, pausing, after each half hour or so, to rewind the action. Go is a rave-generation joyride, a kind of junior Pulp Fiction that courses along on waves of freedom and excitement. For all that, there’s a ticklish intimacy to its tone. Working from John August’s script, Liman, who also shot the film, keeps his camera trained on the eyes of his actors, picking up glints of vulnerability as well as bravado. He’s interested in not just activity but behavior — the chameleonic, born-to-pretend styles of a new renegade youth-quake whose members have grown up to see life as heightened, virtual, a nonstop show.
Liman plugs us into each character and then, with a crackling jolt, shifts our identification over to the next one. At first, we feel a friendly, almost protective kinship with Ronna (Sarah Polley), a waifish supermarket cashier who is so strapped for rent money that she agrees to execute a one-shot drug deal, promising to score some Ecstasy for Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf), a couple of blandly attractive soap opera stars. Ronna is tougher than she looks (Polley’s shockingly expressive doe eyes size up the world like surveillance cameras). In her slacker desperation, though, she flirts with being almost too fearless. She ends up double-crossing Todd (Timothy Olyphant), the Ecstasy dealer, whose porno-surf-punk facade understandably scares the hell out of Ronna’s friend Claire (Katie Holmes), who’s nervously stranded in his apartment.
Rewind to Simon (Desmond Askew), the actors’ usual drug connection, an exuberant, if rather tendentious, Brit who is headed to Vegas along with three buddies. Their road trip is a riot of egomaniacal bonding, especially when Tiny (Breckin Meyer), a horny white gangsta poseur, squares off against the jocular Marcus (Taye Diggs), a black tantric-sex apostle. The four arrive in Vegas, which they proceed to turn into an anarchic bad-boy playpen. One stolen Ferrari, raging bullet-wounded bouncer, and very fiery three-way sex scene later, they’ve gotten much more than their casino chips’ worth. The film then ricochets back to Zack and Adam, who turn out to be (a) closeted lovers, and (b) under the thumb of the creepiest cop in L.A., the ominously genial Burke (William Fichtner), who seems as obsessed with the muscle tone of his two stooges as he is with actually nabbing crooks. A Christmas dinner at Burke’s proves the movie’s freakiest — and, admittedly, most contrived — joke.
Go offers its own version of Pulp Fiction’s mind-bending narrative playfulness, as the random events of 24 hours appear to converge with karmic precision. In effect, the movie eliminates past and future, plugging the audience directly into the moment. Liman has a nearly inexhaustible bag of tricks. At several points, we take in the world through a character’s deranged Ecstasy high (he converses with a cat who speaks in Zen subtitles). The movie even features…a car chase. This one, set to the jubilant bumptious groove of Steppenwolf’s ”Magic Carpet Ride” (an electronica-age filmmaker’s ironic homage to rock), is an exhilarating reminder of why these scenes were ever pulse quickeners in the first place.
More than anything, Liman does extraordinary work with his dazzling young cast, a parade of future stars if ever I’ve seen one. My personal favorites were the delicate yet fierce Sarah Polley, the wildly charismatic Taye Diggs, and the terse, quibbling, hilariously neurotic team of Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf. In its never-a-dull-moment way, Go is saying, This is how we live now. In overdrive. In permanent free fall. On the go. A