Film- also showing: He's pretty good at pulp, and he isn't so bad at fiction
Go (18) Doug Liman; 101 mins The 13th Warrior (15) John McTiernan; 103 mins Paperback Hero (15) Antony Bowman; 96 mins Yellow Submarine (U) George Dunning; 90 mins
Sunday 05 September 1999
Although Liman has loudly countered accusations that Go is a low-calorie version of Pulp Fiction, he hasn't a leg to stand on - the film is utterly born from Tarantino's perspective-shifting, time-fiddling narrative style. It's a hot Christmas Eve somewhere in LA. Impoverished supermarket check- out girl Ronna (Sarah Polley) is offered a one-off, seemingly no-risk drug deal, and this provides the kick-off point for a series of interwoven stories. There's the one about her British colleague Simon (Desmond Askew) having a terrifying time in Vegas, and the one about two soap actors (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) suspecting themselves nearly involved in a wife- swapping scenario. But structure-reliant films, and particularly those co-opting the "meanwhile" trope, often have trouble sustaining their velocity. Pulp Fiction was a victory, but it did seem epic-long, and spat you into the night feeling like you'd been wrestling with a mattress filled with treacle. And Go feels endless. I was restless for lunch from the start, hoping that some lucky fluke of inattention on my part might inadvertently provide the film with a few mysteries. But it's over-loaded with an atmosphere of predictability. The beginning of every little story sets up a routine of carping, and stand-up repartee, and disasters. You already know that Ronna's deal is going to turn catastrophic, and that Simon will not quite get the comeuppance he deserves.
And the scenes with Askew, an old face from Grange Hill, are excruciating. It's a strange sight, a British actor dying amidst all these relaxed, receptive, sardonic young Americans. Askew compensates for a lack of confidence by trying to catch the friendly and supposedly elegiac middle register of the Cockney, trying and failing to make every line a stream of chat in a way that only Americans can.
Based on the Michael Crichton novel Eaters of the Dead (1976), The 13th Warrior flopped belly-up in the States. With its $100m price tag, it's up there with The Phantom Menace as a depressing example of what happens if you give fools pots of money. Antonio Banderas stars as a cultured and clever exiled Arab emissary who is thrown in with a bunch of Vikings. He travels with them to a northern land where a village is under siege from a band of demon-bear warrior-cannibals who only ever come out when it's misty, then chomp on everybody in sight.
Some of the images do stick on the mind - a thousand-strong line of torch-lit baddies winding their way down the mountains - but the script is laboured and naff. The Vikings yell lines like "The Tartars are coming!" and never stop laughing their heads off. And their encampment is rather lovely: so much for ninth-century grot. A cosier, more bread-and-mead- filled place you couldn't imagine.
The film is violent, thus the 15 certificate, which excludes all the ferocious 12-year-olds who might have proved the only audience able to stomach the rest of the film's inanities. And there's lots for over- 15s to laugh at, not least of all Banderas in his heavy eyeliner. Banderas has a very proud style - never the fumbler. Even though he speaks fluent English, his accent is stubbornly thick. America hasn't claimed his vowels ("She haad a jelowz huzbind"). But he seems so out of place here, so out of sync, so petite and elsewhere. Still, there is something to be said for getting to look at the cast of Scandinavian actors (the white-chocolate skin, the Midas hair) and the few Brits involved, who are basically all the actors in Equity over six foot. I was delighted to see the gay plumber from This Life smashing somebody over the head with a mallet.
Paperback Hero has a cheeky plot. Hugh Jackman plays Jack, an Australian truck driver who has penned a novel under the name of his friend Ruby (Claudia Karvan.) When an agent shows up in Ruby's outback cafe offering a massive deal, Jack convinces Ruby to sustain the deception. The characters are likable, but what little we get to hear of Ruby/Jack's future bestseller is not. And yet, the film has warmth, although its conclusion is slight.
Just why Yellow Submarine is getting a revamped re-release one year over its 30th birthday is a mystery. But such cock-eyed logic suits George Dunning's peculiar, arhythmic little film. The Beatles wanted nothing to do with it (their characters are voiced by actors) but were contractually obliged to put their names and music to it.
It's always a delight to watch Nowhere Man dropping a fat tear on to his typewriter, but I couldn't help but think of Lennon, a heroin user by 1968, desperate to slope off and write "Happiness is a Warm Gun", flummoxed that the Beatles were now so mainstream, so family-round-the- telly, while Paris rioted. The whole thing brought wistfully to mind Danny the Dealer's line in Withnail and I: "They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over."
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