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Friday, Oct. 15, 1999


You say you want counterculture?

The bikers and the beats, the hippies and the yippies, the disco dancers and punks -- just about every youth subculture of the past five decades has received current and timely representation in films, many of which -- ex post facto-- have become the defining moments of these subcultures ("The Wild Ones," "Easy Rider," "Saturday Night Fever," et al.).

But whither the ravers in the '90s? People in the future, judging from the '90s films they see, will have little to no inkling that this burgeoning global youth movement even existed! There are a couple of Euro films like "Clubbed to Death," "Amsterdam Wasted" and, um, that's about it.

Director Doug Liman, who successfully captured the look and feel of L.A.'s "neo-swing" scene in "Swingers," his debut in 1997, is making what might be the '90s last attempt to capture the rave underground with his new film "Go." He's only partly successful, though. "Go" is witty enough and somewhat captures the milieu of dodgy dealers and warehouse one-offs, but the story strangely ends up confirming all the worst media hype regarding raves.

"Go" is actually three stories folded into one: The first follows a sullen 18-year-old supermarket clerk named Ronna ("The Sweet Hereafter's" Sarah Polley) who faces eviction, and decides to deal a bit of ecstacy to pay the rent. She goes to score from a menacing dealer named Todd (Timothy Olyphant), but is short on cash upfront, so she has to leave her friend Claire (Katie Holmes) as collateral.

When Ronna goes to sell the dope to a pair of rave-going soap opera stars, however, she finds that something's not quite right. Soon she's off at the rave desperately wondering how she's gonna come up with the cash for Todd, while her friend Manny (Nathan Bexton) flips out on too much E. Meanwhile, Todd comes looking for Ronna with a gun . . .

The second story has Ronna's fellow employee and low-level purveyor-of-pills Simon (Desmond Askew), a party-hearty Brit, on a bender in Las Vegas with a gang of his friends. Between gambling, drugs, quick sex, a hotel room fire, a stolen car, angry lap-dancers and discharged firearms, Simon somehow makes it back to L.A., but with a wounded (and really pissed) strip-club bouncer on his tail.

The third strand focuses on Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr), the soap-opera stars, and their bizarre Christmas dinner at the home of their police contact Burke (William Fichtner). The boys finally do end up at that rave, where they have a nasty run-in with Ronna, which takes some resolving. "Go" builds to a final peak of coincidences, as all the characters' orbits manage to intersect in humorous and dangerous ways.

Fans of "Pulp Fiction" will love "Go" for its scrambled yet interlocking narrative, its trivial pop-culture conversations (in a diner, no less), its show-offy knowledge of the rituals of dealing and doing drugs and the way it treats its sudden violence as amusing predicaments. Hell, there's even a white boy (Breckin Meyer) who likes to talk like a home-boy!

Director Liman seemed to have his own voice in "Swingers," but here, perhaps at the behest of his sponsors, he has adopted the voice of senor Tarantino. He does a good impression, though, leavening the seemingly sordid subject matter with an outrageous sense of humor -- as in Manny's drug-induced telepathic communication with a cat, or Simon's unsuccessful attempts to resist touching a lap-dancer. But any originality would have to come from his choice of subject matter, the intrinsically linked subcultures of West Coast raves and drug dealing.

Whether one loves "Go" or hates it, one can only bemoan its focus and -- especially -- its timing. These days, most rave organizers on the West Coast are in constant fear of police crackdowns, with expensive sound systems being summarily seized and thousands of dollars of investment lost on canceled events.

Often the factor preceding such crackdowns on all-night dancing is a flurry of negative media hype, usually -- like this film -- out of all proportion to reality. Just last month near L.A., a sole fatal auto accident involving a carload of sleepy-but-sober teenagers led to the media rushing to "blame" the rave party they attended, and calls for raves to be banned. (One wonders when the much greater number of alcohol-related accidents will lead to a media call to ban bars, nightclubs and sporting events.)

In light of such hysteria, it is almost madly irresponsible -- although definitely exploitative -- for Liman to make a film that focuses on all the worst aspects of the rave scene: overdoses, girls willing to trade sex for drugs, kids popping any pill they get their hands on and so on. Liman can make the fair point that such stuff does indeed happen, but his lack of balance cannot be ignored.

In the end, Liman's view of raves is not all that different from that of the LAPD's. As the hippies used to say, you're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem, maaaaan.

"Go" opens tomorrow at Shinjuku Piccadilly 4.

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