It’s been nearly 20 years since I saw Go twice at the local mall multiplex, and it’s stayed with me ever since. Director Doug Liman’s electro-fueled romp through the late-90s LA rave scene is an incisive, kaleidoscopic snapshot of youth culture on the brink of a new century. It features a menagerie of young stars at the height of their careers—Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Wolf, Taye Diggs, Jane Krakowski, Breckin Meyer—and a doe-eyed Melissa McCarthy in her first-ever big-screen role.
It is also an excellent holiday movie. Now you may be thinking, What could a movie about dealing drugs, running someone over with a car, and shooting up a Vegas strip club have to teach me about the spirit of the season? The answer is pretty much everything. And let’s face it, there are only so many times you can watch Die Hard. It’s time for a new non-traditional alternative to Elf and Love Actually.
Go follows the shenanigans of three sets of characters over the course of one eventful evening, imparting seasonal wisdom at every turn. “You know what I like best about Christmas?” Claire (Katie Holmes) asks in the film’s opening scene. “The surprises,” she says. “You get this box and you're sure you know what's inside of it… You shake it, you weigh it, you're totally convinced you have it pegged. No doubt in your mind,” she continues, hair framing her face like a wet mop. “But then you open it up, and it's completely different. You know: wow, bang, surprise!” This movie is a little like that: just when you’re ready to write Go off as a dated crime comedy, it surprises you by containing everything a viewer could want in a holiday movie.
Ronna: Play Nice for Santa
In It’s a Wonderful Life, financial woes drive Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey to a suicide attempt. Supermarket clerk Ronna (Sarah Polley) is more pragmatic about her lack of funds. As she’s wrapping a 14-hour shift, she’s visited by her “Ghost of Christmas Future,” an old woman who asks Ronna to double her coupons. “Don’t think you’re something you’re not. I used to have your job,” the elder woman snaps. “And look how far it got you,” Ronna deadpans in reply.
Ronna is on the brink of eviction. She owes $380 (about $575, in today’s dollars) or she’s out on the street. So Simon (Desmond Askew), her rascally British co-worker, offers Ronna cash up front to cover his shift (“Christmas is a time for giving!”) so he can head to Las Vegas with his friends.
However, that means Simon’s not at the store when a couple of clean-cut hunks named Adam and Zach (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) come around looking for “something a little more euphoric” than doughnuts to go with their cart full of frozen orange juice (taking vitamin C with ecstasy is a thing). Simon’s their usual hookup, but Ronna thinks she can score by cutting out the middleman and going straight to his dealer: the very hot and seedy Todd (Timothy Olyphant).
Todd is the Santa in this Christmas story, as made clear by his furry cap (and my instant desire to sit on his lap). But when Ronna tells Santa Todd what she wants for Christmas (a favor), his response is… colorful. “I give head before I give favors, and I don't even give my best friends head,” he says, “so your chances of getting a favor are pretty fucking slim.” Yet in a holiday miracle, he decides to give Ronna the pills if she leaves her friend Claire behind as collateral while she gets the rest of the money from Adam and Zach.
But as it turns out, Adam and Zach are working for the cops, so to escape entrapment (another Christmas miracle) Ronna flushes the real pills. Then she replaces them with OTC lookalikes, in the form of chewable aspirin, that she returns to Todd before heading off to the “Merry Xmas Super Fest,” the rave everyone’s been talking about. Still short on cash, Ronna fools club kids into thinking her drugstore pills are real ecstacy. “You know what makes it better?” she tells one group. “If you take it with a lot of pot. Like, a lot of pot.” Isn’t fooling gullible children what Christmas is all about?
In one final miracle, Ronna escapes Todd’s wrath when he discovers her deceit—though she gets hit by a car in the process. But don’t worry, she’s not dead! This is a comedy, remember?
Simon: Careful What You Wish For
After Ronna’s tale, the story restarts from Simon’s perspective. On the drive from LA to Vegas, his friends Marcus (Taye Diggs), Tiny (Breckin Meyer), and Singh (James Duval) throw him in the trunk—our first indication of the type of night he’s in for.
Marcus has been bragging about practicing tantra with his girlfriend, which inspires Simon to crash a wedding, pick up a couple of bridesmaids, and take them back to his hotel room. The merriment comes to an abrupt halt when the trio accidentally sets the room on fire, and Simon flees the scene butt-naked.
Marcus, who’s already been mistaken for a bathroom attendant, gets mistaken for a parking valet and is thrown the keys to a sweet red convertible. (It’s definitely because he’s black, but also because his mustard blazer matches the hotel uniforms.)
Simon’s second holiday wish is for a lap dance, so he and Marcus head to a strip club, where Simon can’t follow the only rule (no hands) and gets in a tussle with the bouncer, Victor Jr. (Jimmy Shubert). Then Simon shoots him in the arm with a gun he found in the stolen car and the two flee, igniting the movie’s epic car chase scene.
By the time Simon and his friends head back to LA, he’s had sex with two women, caused a fire, shot someone, and stolen a car. What happened in Vegas doesn’t stay there, either: Victor Sr. (J. E. Freeman) smartly traces Simon’s address in LA from the credit card he used at the club.
Adam and Zach: Flee the Grinch and Do the Right Thing
When the movie reboots a third time, detailing the night’s events from the perspective of Adam and Zach, we find out they’re actors on a soap opera (as well as a couple) who’ve been naughty and nabbed on drug charges. That explains why they’re helping the Grinch of this story, Burke (William Fichtner), a bedroom-eyed cop. Adam gets outfitted with a wire (“Is it safe having a radio next to my balls like this?”), and Burke seems strangely turned on.
Later that night, showing some true Christmas kindness, Zach is the one who tips Ronna off in time for her to escape arrest, mouthing “go” as she leaves to flush the real ecstacy down the toilet.
But even the Grinch isn’t all bad. After the unsuccessful bust, he and his wife (Jane Krakowski) invite Adam and Zach over for Christmas dinner, where they make a proposition that seems sexual, but is really just a ploy to sell them on a pyramid scheme. The daytime beaus wriggle free and realize they’ve been cheating on each other with the same person: Jimmy from the makeup department! When they show up at his place, his sister (Melissa McCarthy) points them to the rave (everyone in LA is there, apparently), where they find Jimmy and chop off a chunk of his flowing hair. But, driving off giddy with excitement, they’re the ones who crash into Ronna.
They pull her out of the ditch eventually, of course. In the end, Ronna’s got her rent money, Simon gets what’s coming to him in the form of a gunshot to the arm courtesy of Victor Jr., and Claire hooks up with Todd the angry dealer (“Wow, bang, surprise!”).
But it’s Manny (Nathan Bexton), who helped Ronna steal drugstore meds and pass them off as actual drugs, who’s the true embodiment of #ChristmasGoals. He sneaks two hits of Todd’s actual E while driving Ronna around and winds up high out of his fucking mind.
The next morning, Ronna fishes him out of a back alley, where she hid him like a little mouse while fleeing Todd the previous night. “You look like shit,” Manny tells her truthfully. Then he asks the question on everyone’s mind at a time such as this: “So, what are we doing for New Years?”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter.