Hollywood eats its young. That thought kept flashing as I watched Katie Holmes and Sarah Polley light up the screen as teen supermarket-checkout girls in Go. This keenly observed comedy, from Swingers director Doug Liman, stirred up what Variety might call “beaucoup buzz” for the two actresses when the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Holmes, a dark-eyed former model from Ohio who has delayed her enrollment at Columbia University to stoke her career, is used to the attention. As Joey on Dawson’s Creek, she is already a TV icon and pinup. Polley, an art-film baby (The Sweet Hereafter, Guinevere) whose pale beauty can’t hide a tough core of intelligence and wit, is a high school dropout from Canada with a passion for political protest and a horror of the L.A. scene (“You have to be kind of stupid to be on TV”). Policy’s reaction to fame is: run!
Smart thinking, given the current feeding frenzy in making films that, unlike Go, exploit young actors for a quick buck before their fifteen minutes are up. Teen movies are nothing new; it’s the sudden profusion of profitable ones that’s making Hollywood lust for underage jocks and oversexed jailbait. James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) starred as a high school football hero in the highly mediocre Varsity Blues. Result? A $50 million gross on a $10 million budget. Freddie Prinze Jr. (I Know What You Did Last Summer) did a makeover on the school geek in She’s All That and turned a piss-poor makeover of Pygmalion into a hit. Teen TV stars are now ripe for the picking by hungry studio scouts. Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stars in an updated Dangerous Liaisons for the prep-school set in Cruel Intentions, co-starring Selma Blair (Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane) and Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), who is on leave from his hetero exploits as Pacey to go bottle blond and play gay.
Take note: The teen horror genre that peaked with Kevin Williamson’s hip script for Scream in 1996 seems to have expired (R.I.P.: The Faculty). In its place, retaining only the raging hormones and pop-culture references, is a mutant form of the teen angst formulated by John Hughes in the 1980s with such Molly Ringwald epics as Sixteen Candles. Many upcoming teen flicks have Eighties echoes. American Pie, about four students out to get laid, sounds horribly like Porky’s. Never Been Kissed, with Drew Barrymore as a reporter posing as a high school student, draws on Fast Times at Ridgemont High. As for Ten Things I Hate About You, with Julia Stiles as the school bitch no one dates, the inspiration is as old as — yikes — The Taming of the Shrew.
It’s enough to make you root for a backlash. But do not pass Go if you want to see the real goods in blossoming talent. Holmes’ Claire and Polley’s Ronna are eighteen and anxious. Not about school — that’s so over, and their jobs at an L.A. supermarket provide the cash to cut loose after hours. Since Ronna barely has enough money left over to pay the rent, she subs for Simon (Desmond Askew), a British co-worker who wants to spend Christmas partying in Las Vegas. The trouble starts when two soap-opera actors — Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) — ask the girls to score them drugs. The guys seem harmless. “Gay men are so hot it’s tragic,” says Claire to Ronna, who figures she’ll buy a few hits of ecstasy from Simon’s dealer, Todd (a striking Timothy Olyphant), and then overcharge the TV pretty boys.
Before the night is over, a nut-job narc (William Fichtner) has put a drug sting into place, cold pills are being sold as ecstasy at a rave, Simon is racing home from a gunfight at a Vegas strip bar, Claire is in danger of becoming a sex slave to Todd, and Ronna is hit by a mystery car and left for dead in a ditch.
Some fun. Actually, it is. John August’s screenplay is a cleverly fractured piece of pulp fiction, and Liman weaves the three interlocking stories together with dazzling dexterity. Go is a wildly entertaining ride through the night, but it is the hilarious and heartfelt performances of Holmes and Polley (both recently turned twenty) that trigger an emotional response. Can they pull a Jodie Foster — that rare teen actress whose career is still thriving after thirty-five — or will they be gone with the wind and the macarena before you can say “Molly Ringwald”? Go, girls.