GO - Blu-ray review

A Weekend at Bernie's meets Pulp Fiction caper flick that . . . goes for the funny bone more than the jugular.

James Plath's picture

Entertainment Weekly called "Go" (1999) the "Son of 'Pulp Fiction,'" a Blu-ray cover blurb that pretty much sums up this Doug Liman film and begs, once more, this question: How much should a good film be penalized for seeming derivative? Do you knock off one point? Two?

I mean, you have the same smart and stylish combination of hip music, fragmented narratives that go off in wild directions and then converge again, drug deals gone bad, and bodies that need to be disposed of that filled Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994). And instead of a needle to the heart, it's an even quirkier close-range shot in the arm that was plea-bargained down from what would have been a bullet to the brain. Petty thugs and enforcers roam here, and the same domino theory of narration is in force. Random chains of events happen that lead to a bad thing in each narrative thread, and then that bad thing leads to another domino knockdown, all handled with Tarantinoesque dark humor. The main difference between "Pulp Fiction" and its apparent offspring is that this one from Liman ("Swingers," "The Bourne Identity," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith") is far less confusing. In truth, I also enjoyed the characters more. Plus, we know how they relate to each other and we're not left completely in the dark with any of the narrative threads. Watching them twist forward and enjoying the characters is half the fun; the other half comes from just plain smart writing and hip editing. And since all of these characters are younger than Tarantino's, it feels like a New Brat Pack version of "Pulp Fiction."

It all starts with Ronna (Sarah Polley), who's the lynch pin for this comedy and could pass for Uma Thurman's younger sister. We meet Sarah and her fellow grocery store checkers, Claire (an early "Dawson's Creek"-era Katie Holmes) and Mannie (Nathan Bexton) on the job. Ronna is out-of-it after pulling a 14-hour shift, but she needs the cash. And so, threatened with eviction from her apartment, she jumps at the chance to pocket the wad of cash that co-worker Simon (Desmond Askew) hands her to work his shift so he can do Vegas with his friends. But see, Simon had been providing this group and certain customers with their pharmacological thrills, a fact that's established as we watch them getting high in the cooler on break. So when a couple of TV actors named Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) ask Ronna if she can help them in Simon's absence to score 20 happy pills for a party, the nice girl in her and the practical-minded one who's still short on rent money both say "yes." And that's how it all begins: a search for ecstasy that produces less than ecstatic results, with a drug dealer (Timothy Olyphant) holding more cards than you'd think were in an average deck.

Meanwhile, Adam and Zack get involved with an undercover cop (Wllliam Fichtner) who's more than a little weird, and so is his wife (Jane Krakowski). But they're not the only ones with problems. In Vegas, somehow a trip to a strip club turns into an ordeal that creates additional problems and another set of pursuers.

It's all done very stylishly and with great tongue-in-cheek humor, and while we may know bad things are going to happen, we never know the details. In this, the filmmakers do a nice job of keeping us guessing. And the tone? The tone is set right in the beginning, when Ronna is checking and a woman holding a child keeps getting on her for not giving discounts, not counting double this-or-that, and then says to her, "Don't think you're something you're not. I used to have your job." In response, Ronna deadpans, "Yeah, and look where it got you." The whole film is full of undercutting humor, layered so that the more savvy you are the more you "get," and it suits these young folks perfectly. "Go," for example, is slang for speed (methamphetamine), but it's also whispered at one point to alert someone it's time for that fight or flight instinct to kick in. The plot bounces back and forth between Vegas and L.A., with odd and quirky scenes the norm--which further explains why so many people saw reflections of "Pulp Fiction" in this fun little film. And it delivers more laughs and nudity than you'd expect . . . sometimes in the same scene. It may not be an original, but "Go" still has a personality all its own.

I don't know if it's the transfer or a reflection of the master, but "Go" looks a little soft to me, as if Liman went to shoot the strip-club scenes first and put a little Vaseline on his lens and then forgot to wipe it off. Colors aren't nearly as saturated as they could be, though they're still natural-looking. And while the level of detail is decent, the soft look and a thin layer of film grain throughout make this a title that you won't pop in the player to impress Blu-ray neophytes. When you're into the film the look feels just fine, but it's not the kind of video that wows you. "Go" was transferred to disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is an English, French, or Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and it's a fairly dynamic track that establishes what it can do early in a techno club with thumping bass and ecstatic dancers. During the course of the action "Go" also offers surprising rear-speaker involvement that draws attention to itself, which will either strike you as a positive or negative, depending on personal taste. Otherwise, the balance and timbre are fine, especially for a catalog title.

The supermarket is the heart of this film, and so it's no surprise that director Liman and his editor, Stephen Mirrione, have the most fun on the full-length commentary when they're sharing supermarket stories. Otherwise, it's a fairly average track that covers the usual bases: casting, shooting locations, post-production, and a budget/spirit that put them squarely in the indie mode.

After the commentary track there's not much. A "making of" featurette runs just over six minutes and feels like a knock-off, and so unless you're into deleted scenes (roughly 25 minutes of them are included here) the only thing left are three music videos ("New" by No Doubt, "Magic Carpet Ride" by Philip Steir, "Steal My Sunshine" by Len) and BD-Live accessibility.

Bottom Line:
"Go" has energy, and it's fun to watch. Don't look for a moral or social commentary. What you see is what you get: a "Weekend at Bernie's" meets "Pulp Fiction" caper flick that involves dabblers and fringe players rather than pros, and goes for the funny bone more than the jugular. And so what if it plays like "Pulp Fiction"?


Film Value