Like so many crises, it begins with a panicked phone call. Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), a courier for a powerful drug dealer, calls his girlfriend, Lola (Franka Potente), because he has just lost 100,000 deutsche marks that he must deliver to the dealer in 20 minutes. If he doesn't show up with the money, he's knows that he will be killed. He contemplates robbing a grocery store across the street, but Lola begs him not to do it. Just wait, she tells him, because she will somehow get 100,000 marks and meet him in 20 minutes.
And there begins the strange, hyperkinetic odyssey of "Run Lola Run" ("Lola rennt"), a fast-paced perpetual motion machine masquerading as a movie. Written and directed by Tom Tykwer, a young German filmmaker with verve and audacity, "Run Lola Run" is both a real-time action thriller and a slyly effective exploration of how the smallest human actions change entire lives forever. But, most of all, "Run Lola Run" is a show-off movie, a motion picture whose gaudy aesthetic pyrotechnics far outweigh any intellectual or emotional content.
Tykwer sets up his premise in the first 15 minutes, and for the next hour he shows Lola's 20-minute journey to save Manni three times. Each time, there are small, subtle changes that make the outcomes completely different. Each version of the journey features the same central characters, including Lola's self-absorbed father (Herbert Knaup) who is having an affair with a bank coworker (Nina Petri), one of his clients (Ludger Pistor), a bank security guard, a woman walking her dog on the street, a group of nuns, an ambulance driver, and a young man trying to sell his bike.
The filmmakers do an excellent job of setting up each sequence and drawing attention to the small differences that then snowball into life changes. If Lola is running five seconds late, a car that would have hit another car at a certain place in time doesn't. Or, if she doesn't get to the bank at a certain time to ask her father for the money, her father will find out something from his lover that he didn't hear the first time that will determine whether or not he leaves his family. The movie makes you consciously aware of these little differences, and by the third go-round you can anticipate what will happen, and the pay-off is in finding that you are wrong because of some tiny difference in how Lola runs around a corner.
Visually, "Run Lola Run" is stunning if not a bit mind-boggling. Tykwer and his cinematographer, Frank Griebe, filmed "Run Lola Run" in a visually arresting manner that suits its hyperactive character. It is movies like this for which the Steadicam was invented. Tykwer loves zooming along beside Lola as she races through the streets of Berlin, her stark red hair blazing, and he incorporates crane shots, zooms, different film stocks, animation, and even gimmicky split screens to convey a constant sense of motion and to emphasize that different events are happening simultaneously, and seconds can make the difference. (He also uses a great visual device of rapid snapshots after Lola passes a stranger, showing how that stranger's life will eventually turn out.) Tykwer also pumps up the soundtrack with a pulsating score of techno-electronic music that keeps the movie rushing forward; luckily, he does take aural breaks every once in a while, and the moments of silence take on great weight simply because they are silent. Call them time outs in the game.
Of course, in the end, this is all ado about nothing. After all, the movie really covers only 20 minutes in a single day, we know next to nothing about the characters, and the situation is thin and even a bit contrived. Some may get annoyed with the movie and see the repeating sequences as a fatuous gimmick. However, if you buy into Lola's plight (and it's very easy to do so because 24-year-old German actress Franka Potente, with little to go on, still manages to get beneath Lola's punk exterior and find a human being with whom we can relate and sympathize), "Run Lola Run" becomes an exciting urban adventure tense with panic and random violence. The movie's central image of a young girl racing through the busy streets of Berlin becomes a symbol of our panicked, rushed modern lives, and the movie shows with great clarity just how monumental is our every move.
Copyright © 1999 James Kendrick
Overall Rating: (3)
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