Go (1999)

Directed by Doug Liman.

“So, what are we doing for New Year’s?”

The Disc

A couple of very late 90s music videos, including Len. You remember Len? With their song? Steal My Sunshine? It’s fun to revisit the past.

Also one by No Doubt, and a specially shot tie-in promo featuring the male cast from the Vegas thread and clips from the film as they ‘perform’ Philip Stier’s remix of Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride. It’s better than it sounds.

There’s also a bunch of behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and commentaries.

Why Did I Get This?

I was introduced to Swingers at university (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter), and really found myself enjoying it but also relating to it – I’ve spoken before about how at different points I’d felt connected to different characters in Doug Liman’s previous film, and I haven’t revisited it in years but would be curious to see how it holds up.

Anyway, my housemate introduced me to Go too, and I remember enjoying it a lot, albeit in a very different way. These smart, chaotic young ‘teens’ were living lives I’ve never really experienced (my 2004 trip to Vegas was very different to the one portrayed in this movie), but I loved the way the stories weaved in and out of each other, thought the cast were cool and sexy (and it’s a great cast!), and found the script and performances funny throughout.

Will it hold up? Genuinely no idea.

If it doesn’t hold up, will I stop quoting bits I’ve been quoting for 20 years? No, no I will not.

Here’s the trailer which is full of No Doubt and Fat Boy Slim, but for some reason, has an alternative take on the final line of the film, which is weird and I don’t like it. Still, gives you a feel for the flick.

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will include spoilers from the film. If you’d like to avoid them, scroll straight down to the next heading!

Go is a sort of portmanteau film, dealing with three separate stories – Ronna, Claire and Mannie, who become drug dealers for the night, Simon, Marcus, Tiny and Singh who spend an eventful night in Las Vegas, and Adam and Zack, lovers and television actors who are keeping secrets from each other and everyone else.

After an opening salvo of late 90s rave culture clips which burst in over the Columbia Pictures logo (all glowsticks, sweat and dayglo clothing), and a brief scene featuring a drenched Katie Holmes in a diner, we find ourselves inside a supermarket where we’re introduced to our characters in a way that borders on caricature but is swift and fun enough not to be dull.

Ronna (Sarah Polley), is sarcastic, poor and about to be evicted at Christmas. Claire (Katie Holmes), is a little more straight-laced, but with a hint of mischief behind the eyes. Mannie (Nathan Bexton), is a goofball.

We learn this through some quickfire exposition that feels more efficient than forced, and which also involves Simon (Desmond Askew) – the goofy British guy who wants to live the American dream.

As it rattles along, Ronna agrees to pick up a shift for Simon to pay her rent and give him time to go to Vegas (setting up the second story), and as she’s working the checkout she’s approached by Zack and Adam (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf), who ask if she can get them 20 hits of ecstasy. She agrees, and takes Claire and Mannie to visit Simon’s dealer, Todd (played by a distractingly shirtless Timothy Olyphant).

Liman’s switch to handheld camera at moments of sudden drama works really well – things feel a little shifty when Ronna visits Todd’s apartment, but it’s all relatively pleasant until she places her order. At this point, he pumps up the music, gets a very intense look on his face and the camera becomes more mobile, getting right into the faces of the performers as he checks she’s not wearing a wire.

It’s a trick the director pulls during some of the later sequences too, (notably in the Vegas thread, but also the viewpoint of a tripping Mannie when he realises Ronna’s in danger at the rave), to add a sense of frenzy to the chaotic story we’re watching unfold on screen – this was a few years before The Bourne Identity, but the car chases in Go really benefit from a looser shooting style, and I’d say helped prepare him for shooting on the streets of Paris.

Because Ronna’s still short on cash, she leaves Claire as collateral with Todd leading to some flirting between the pair while she goes to sell the drugs to Zack and Adam. When she gets to the ‘party’, she discovers it’s just Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf and William Fichtner, and while I reckon that’d be a great table to sit at for some Hollywood stories, it seems pretty off to someone who’s holding enough premium-grade pharmaceuticals to qualify for possession with intent to supply.

“Ronna, hun, we are fresh out of O.J… Cerveza?”

Smart enough to know this is a sting (though we later find she had a little help from Zack), Ronna flushes the pills down the toilet before fleeing the house, only to discover Mannie has downed two of the tablets and should expect a wild ride before things get better. Returning without pills or cash is not an option, so she shoplifts a load of medicine that looks roughly the same, gives them back to Olyphant (who reminds her he ‘gives head before he gives favours’ – lovely), and leaves with Claire.

Counting their blessings, the three visit a massive warehouse rave and sell all the baby aspirin, vitamins and allergy medicine to young ravers who are gullible enough to believe they’re getting high on them. It’s here that Claire turns out to be less of a goody-two-shoes character than she first appeared, getting in on the ruse (thanks to a lovely few touches by Holmes in this performance, elevating it from a paper-thing caricature), and helping Ronna make enough money to keep her apartment, and everything’s fine and dandy…

Until Todd realises the pills Ronna returned aren’t premium-grade MDMA, but are over-the-counter medicine, so rocks up at the rave with a gun to confront and murder her – that took a pretty fast turn, and anyone who’s seen Olyphant’s work in Deadwood knows he can be as menacing as he is charming when the role requires it.

However, before he can shoot her, she’s hit by a little yellow convertible in the car park and thrown into a ditch, and we’re taken back to the opening scene at the supermarket to begin Simon’s story.

It’s never explained why the kid from Grange Hill is living in LA, but it doesn’t matter – Askew is charming and funny enough that you don’t really care. He and his cadre of buddies also fall into neat little stereotypes. Marcus (Taye Diggs), is the wise and streetwise, sensible black guy.

Tiny (Breckin Meyer), is the clueless wannabe who feels free to drop racist terms because his great, great grandmother was black, and Singh (James Duval), is Tiny’s goofy wingman who doesn’t really get much to do.

The story wisely ditches Tiny and Singh soon after they’ve arrived in Vegas, writing them off with food poisoning so we can follow the more charming members of the group, but not before they’ve dismissed Marcus’ boasting of engaging in Tantric sex, while Simon listens on in awe.

Nice plot point here too, as Simon freely brandishes Todd’s credit card, which he’s loaned him to book a room. While we’re chuckling at Marcus complaining about using a drug dealer’s card (“Oh, he’s the good drug dealer, right.”), it’s pretty clear this is going come back later in the story in some way – Chekhov’s Visa, if you will.

Neat as that is, there’s also a nice running gag about Marcus’ attire (“Did I mention how much I like your jacket?”), which leads to him being mistaken for a valet and the pair going for a joyride around Vegas in someone else’s car then heading to a strip club, as I’m told lads are known to do on a trip to Vegas.

From here, things get out of hand pretty quickly… or in hand, if you like, as Simon touches up one of the dancers, Marcus gets a kicking from a bouncer before Simon uses a gun he found in the glove box to shoot the guy and they flee back to the safety of the hotel.

Or it would be safe, if they hadn’t used Todd’s credit card at the strip club too, so now they’ve got the goons from the club after them, leading to a pretty impressive car chase through the back streets of Vegas (you can see elements of it in the trailer), before fleeing the city and ending the story with everyone battered and bruised.

This is a hectic half hour of story – I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Simon crashes a wedding while Marcus is at the tables, then gets high with a couple of bridesmaids before having a threesome with them, mastering Tantric sex on his first go, and accidentally setting fire to the hotel room.

Like I said, hectic.

He’s basically living the life that Kris Marshall’s awful character in Love, Actually imagines he’s going to live when he goes to the US.

We’re back to the opening scenes again then for Zack and Adam’s story, and we discover they’ve been roped into assisting the police after being caught for a minor infraction. Fichtner is brilliant here, giving off really creepy vibes with both of the young actors, suggesting he’s sexually interested in them, but asking about their girlfriends, seemingly oblivious to the fact they’re gay.

It quickly becomes apparent that they’re seeing each other, but also unhappy because each knows the other has cheated on the other – unhappier still later in the story when they discover they’ve been cheating with the same guy from the TV show they both work on.

Before that though, we see Ronna’s sting operation from their point of view, and discover Zack mouthed the word “Go” to her, rather than see her arrested for something she didn’t really want to be doing in the first place. This is a nice touch, and one of the various uses of the title peppered throughout the film (the Vegas lads and the bridesmaids all use “go” as a euphemism for orgasm during separate conversations), and we see Fichtner get angry but accept the failure before asking Zack and Adam to join him and his wife for dinner, which they reluctantly accept.

There’s some really nice awkwardness between the actors and Fichtner and his wife (played by 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski – it took me a few minutes to realise where I’d seen her before), including a naked Fichtner surprising Mohr as he leaves the bathroom and a playful Krakowski pouncing on Wolf for a kiss while prepping mashed potatoes.

It all adds to the suggestion they’re after something sexual with the guys, but in a rugpull at the dinner table we discover they’re actually trying to sign them up to a sales organisation, and the actors leave with a bunch of paperwork and the feeling they need to do something unsavoury – so they head to the warehouse rave where Ronna, Claire and Mannie are having their own adventure.

On their way though, they stop to find the guy they’ve been cheating with, and meet his sister – at first glance, I thought ‘blimey, she looks like a young Melissa McCarthy’, but sitting through the credits, guess what…

So they cut the ponytail off the arsehole at the rave and make up with each other, then get into their little yellow convertible and crash into Ronna before speeding off and realising Adam is still wearing his police wire, and the whole thing might’ve been recorded.

That’s a great gag, and there’s a nice sequence as the pair work together to rescue an injured Ronna from the ditch and leave her on another car to be found, but it annoys me that that’s the end of their story – did the cops hear the recording? Is that it, everything’s fine now? I dunno, but it does have another nice exchange…

ADAM: “A girl is dead, Zack!”

ZACK: “… I didn’t say it went perfectly.”

We then get a brief coda, following Katie Holmes walking from the rave in the rain to the restaurant we found her in at the beginning and discovering she’s talking to Olyphant’s character. There’s a lot of chemistry here (I’d never realised how good Holmes could be, to be honest), although I can’t say I agree with her assessment of Olyphant as “only medium-cute”.

So they go back to his place to hook up, where they’re met by the Vegas goons, but even as Todd’s drawing them a map to Simon’s apartment, Simon rushes in looking for help and is given a brief kicking before being told he’s going to be shot.

After an argument from Claire, they agree to shoot him in the arm – similar injury to the bouncer – and the look on Olyphant’s face as they’re preparing to shoot him is just delightful. It’s a childlike curiosity and fascination at the promise of an act that’s going to seriously injure someone.

Claire’s had enough and walks out, and I like to think there’s a nod to The Apartment as she gets into the hall and hears a shot (although it’s quickly followed by Simon shouting “I’m okay!”).

Meanwhile, it’s back to work for Ronna and Claire, then a quick rescue mission to the warehouse to pick up Mannie and Ronna’s car, before he delivers the final line…

“So, what are we doing for New Year’s?”

Thoughts On The Film

Doug Liman turned out to be one of those directors who never really made the same film twice, but even so Go feels like an anomaly in his career.

That probably sounds more critical than intended, but the focus on young, aimless characters doesn’t really fit in with, say, Edge Of Tomorrow or even The Bourne Identity. That being said, the Vegas thread in this story pretty much feels like the kind of adventure Trent and Mike are expecting in their spur of the moment trip to Sin City in Swingers, so maybe Liman was reflecting on that a little.

As with any big cast from a 20+ year old film, it’s amazing to see them so young, and reassuring that so many of them have gone on to great things. Taye Diggs is hugely watchable in this, and Timothy Olyphant is great too, but as someone who has only seen Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, it was good to see what she could do outside of a superhero film. Likewise, I only really knew Sarah Polley from her role in Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake, but her directing career has been hugely praised (and I realise I really should seek out some of it).

Leonard Maltin called Go “a junior Pulp Fiction”, and there’s definitely a Tarantino-esque feel to it – not just with the whip smart, cooler than cool dialogue (though Olyphant’s monologue about The Family Circus cartoon spoiling his newspaper feels like a very watered-down QT riff), but obviously with the portmanteau presentation and intertwining timelines.

Elements of it haven’t dated well, sure, but having a gay couple as two of your leads was a good thing in 1999 and would still be good now. More to the point, the fact they’re gay isn’t a big deal, they’re just a couple who things happen to – Vikki Layton discussed this better than I could in her brilliant piece on Dog Day Afternoon, and I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it.

Verdict

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and Go offers a hit of late-90s culture that’s hard to replicate. There’s a lot to love about it, and I’d definitely rewatch and recommend.

One thought on “Go (1999)

Add yours

  1. Go was very much a film of its time. A mix of indie culture and Tarantino style multiple plotlines with Katie Holmes as the star (Dawson’s Creek was big at the time).

    I went and saw Go with my school mates at the cinema when it was first released and then got it on DVD. I must confess that I have not seen it for many years. However, I remember enjoying the film at the cinema but found, after repeated viewings, that some of the story lines were stronger than others. Overall, it is good fun and a reminder of what 90s indie culture was like back in the day.

    Michael Dec 2021

    Liked by 1 person

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