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Friday, July 23, 1999

Best run for your money

No matter how silly the English title of "Run Lola Run" may sound ("Lola Rennt" in its original German), this is easily the freshest, flashiest and fastest film of the summer. It's also ideal late-show viewing, especially as a warm-up for a night of four-to-the-floor clubbing.

Director Tom Tykwer takes a uniquely sleek approach: minimal input, maximum output. The film's plot-line is incredibly sparse, kind of like the final reel climax of a "normal" film: Lola (Franka Potente) gets a phone call from her small-time gangster boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). He's lost a bag full of money that he has to deliver to his boss; if he doesn't get the cash in 20 minutes, he's dead meat.

His plan -- a bad one -- is to take his hand gun and hold up the nearest store. Lola, promising her love to her man, tells him to chill, and somehow, someway, she'll get him the cash in under 20 minutes. Cue the pumping German techno on the soundtrack, cut to Lola tossing the phone in the air and she's out the door before it hits the floor.

Did I mention that Lola turns into a cartoon character as she hurtles down the building's stairwell, dodging a snarling dog before emerging from the door as a human again? Such surprising and playful moves are constant, as Tykwer takes this unpromising jalopy of a plot-line and manages to fashion a sleek Jaguar out of it. He dresses the film up with enough stylistic chop-socky -- 35 mm to video, ultra-closeups, time-lapse photography and split-screens -- to make even Oliver Stone break into a sweat. One of his best, and funniest, tricks is that every time Lola bumps into a pedestrian, we get a five-second vision of that person's entire future in freeze-frame Polaroids.

So Lola runs, runs and runs some more, dodging cars and bikes, her punky red mop-top bobbing to the beat, her navel tattoo peeking out, as the film progresses in virtually real time. She tries to hit up her banker daddy for cash, and gets to Manni's side without a moment to spare. But, alas, for the tragic couple, it is too late.

But wait: Maybe love does conquer all. Without revealing too much, "Lola" is the first film to exploit the narrative structure of the video-game: three lives, three chances. Learn what you did wrong, and try to do it better the next time. Imagine a punky "Rashomon" on speed, and you'll be getting close. But rather than exploring the unreliability of individual perspective, "Lola" is a playful, irreverent look at fate, and the split-second decisions that can send our lives on radically different trajectories.

One is hard-pressed to remember the last time a German film was this high-paced, let alone entertaining. Compared to the best works of Wenders or Herzog, "Lola" is a trifle, but a fabulously creative and enjoyable one, and a needed counterbalance to the well-known German propensity for angst. (A country that has given the world the "Love Parade" is certainly about more than furrowed brows and existential despair.) The energy, wit and confidence in style that Tykwer displays have rarely been glimpsed in European cinema since the early days of Beineix and Besson, with films like "Diva" and "Subway." This is likely to be the underground hit of the summer. Enjoy.

Director Tim Hunter comes with quite a resume: one of the all-time classics on wasted youth, "River's Edge," a few choice episodes of "Twin Peaks" to his credit. His name alone is enough to draw attention to "The Maker," although the local selling point is its bishonen star, Jonathan Rhys-Myers ("Velvet Goldmine"), who's paired up here with the always excellent Fairuza Balk ("Gas Food Lodging") and the maddeningly inconsistent Matthew Modine.

"The Maker" starts off promisingly enough: Sullen California high-school teen Josh (Rhys-Myers) hangs out with a clique of bad-kid stoners, and is wondering what to do with his life after graduation. He's plagued by an eerie dream set in an abandoned warehouse (shades of "Twin Peaks" here), and things get more intense when his long-lost and definitely dodgy brother Walter (Modine) shows up at his doorstep.

Events soon take multiple detours away from plausibility, though, and "The Maker" descends into a world of tired cliches long before Michael Madsen turns up (yet again) as the Mafia heavy. Modine seduces his reluctant brother Josh into crime by endlessly (and unconvincingly) intoning "It's in your blood." Meanwhile, teenage glue-sniffer Josh strikes up a thoroughly unbelievable affair with an attractive lady cop (Mary-Louise Parker) nearly twice his age, who -- we are expected to believe -- not only likes jailbait, but hangs around in bars dressed like a hooker.

Balk brings a lot of energy to her role as a pierced lesbian punkette, enough that you begin to wish the film was about her; her interrupted seduction of a cheerleader in the back seat of a car is the film's best laugh, but shortly after that, she disappears from the action entirely.

Modine, on the other hand, has this weird way of delivering lines, even more exaggerated here, which comes off like he's trying to push some buttons, daring you to accuse him of taking the piss. Whether that's his character's attitude, or whether it's his revenge on the director for making him read such atrocious material, or even his disdain for viewers who actually take this film seriously, is not clear. Any way you take it, though, it's a hard performance to swallow.

Whether Hunter will ever make anything as good as "River's Edge" again remains to be seen, but more than a decade has passed, and we're still waiting. "River's Edge" succeeded largely due to the accuracy with which it captured the nihilism and ennui of late-'80s teen culture. With "The Maker," it seems Hunter is less concerned with reflecting reality than in perpetuating a TV-enhanced distortion of it.

"Run Lola Run" is showing at Cinema Rise in Shibuya. "The Maker" starts July 31 at Eurospace in Shibuya.

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