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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Missing Tarantino's 'Pulp'? 'Go' for It!




Go," the 1999 pop-noir now playing at the Dome Cinema, can be described succinctly in six words: Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino.


That said, director-cinematographer Doug Liman's reworking of the tried-and-tested Tarantino formula does have more spunk than most. To be sure, we are still trawling through the same amoral atmosphere of affectless characters whose gritty "marginality" seems strained. Nice, middle-class kids doing a bit of slumming, they seem to be able to parachute out of the demimonde anytime they like and land in comfortable suburbia.


Of course, Liman's characters are supposed to be the genuine article, but the "slumming" quality - like suburban white boys affecting gangsta rap personae - clings to the genre as a whole. This is not necessarily a diatribe against Tarantino, however; for the fact is, with his underrated "Jackie Brown," Tarantino doesn't make Tarantino movies anymore. And his earlier offerings - especially the flick that launched a thousand chips off the QT block, "Pulp Fiction" - had the sense of fresh, startling originality that only later becomes subjected to pastiche.


Liman also has his fresh and startling moments in "Go," but he never steps out of Tarantino's shadow - mostly because he doesn't try to. He uses most of the narrative and thematic elements of "Pulp Fiction" - loosely interlocking subplots with their different perspectives, fumbled forays into the criminal subculture, dope deals gone wrong, intimations of kinky sex, lots of fake blood interspersed with savvy references to mass media trivialities. (Here an ironically "earnest" discussion of the treacly cartoon "Family Circus" takes the place of "Pulp's" exposition on fast-food hamburgers, for example.)


But having chosen to work in this well-plowed ground, Liman makes the most of it. He has assembled a good ensemble cast, led by Sarah Polley, who was one of the brightest lights in Atom Egoyan's superb "The Sweet Hereafter."


In that film, she was a teenage incest victim whose steely core of innocence was extremely moving. In "Go," she displays her range by playing, with equal effectiveness, the entirely unmoving character of Ronna Martin, a supermarket checkout clerk whose amateur dope-dealing is, more or less, the main story.


The other plots involve her co-worker Simon (Desmond Askew), who gets her to sub for him at the store while he takes off on a run to Las Vegas with his buddy Marcus (Taye Diggs). Simon is a part-time drug dealer, and so Ronna, trying to avoid eviction for rent arrears, decides to stand in for him in his second profession as well, employing a few underhand tricks of her own to cut a profit. When a couple of his steady customers, television actors Zack and Adam (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf), show up looking for a big buy, Ronna has to see Simon's supplier, Todd (Timothy Olyphant, doing a slight variation on Gary Oldman's cameo turn in the Tarantino-scripted "True Romance").


The set-up gets more and more complicated when Ronna, short of cash, is forced to leave behind her friend Claire (Katie Holmes) as "collateral" for Todd, while she scrounges up some more money to complete the buy. Meanwhile, Simon and Marcus get tangled up with strippers and hard cases in Vegas. Here, Liman indulges in some decidedly un-fresh sequences: Gunfights and frantic chases through the garish neon streets of Vegas. How Starsky and Hutch! In the third plot strand, Zack and Adam get involved in various shenanigans and end up in dodgy dealings with a kinky cop, Burke (William Fichtner).


If you like this sort of thing, then by all means, "Go." It's probably the best "Tarantino" movie since "Pulp Fiction," and it beats most of the other dull-eyed QT wannabes out there.


- Chris Floyd