Jean-Luc Godard has long been consigned to the margins of commercial cinema, but the “new wave” cinema epitomized by his 1959 Breathless lives on and on, sometimes in forms that are barely recognizable. Based as much on attitude as methodology, new wave movies were blatantly cinephilic and radically self-conscious—drawing attention to themselves as films not only through historicizing allusions to other movies, but through disjointed narratives, deconstructed genre references, sudden mood shifts, bizarre sight gags, and performances based on “movie acting.”
Almost every film-producing nation had its ’60s or ’70s new wave equivalent; the Hollywood version stood Godard on his head with the seamless, reconstructed package that was Star Wars. Current neo–new wave filmmakers would include Wong Kar-Wai, the Olivier Assayas of Irma Vep, and, of course, the still-burgeoning Anglo-American tribe of Tarantinians. This week brings another variation on the formula in German filmmaker Tom Tykwer’s bid for name-brand status, Run Lola Run.
An enjoyably glib and refreshingly terse exercise in big beat and constant motion, Run Lola Run hit the ground sprinting at the last Venice Film Festival. (Such was the reception that the movie’s first North American showing—days later, in Toronto—
occurred amid a buzzy crescendo of cell-phone static and ended with word that Sony Classics had clinched the U.S. distribution deal midscreening.) Unfolding in near real time, this third feature by the 33-year-old writer-director hotshot is a sort of power-pop variation on the mystical time-bending Euro-art movies made by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. In this tale of three alternate futures, the eponymous Berlin punk goddess (Franka Potente) has a mere 20 minutes to raise 100,000 deutsche marks (approximately $60,000) and save the life of her gangster-wannabe boyfriend—a cute dummkopf named Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) who, gofer in some sort of dope deal, managed to leave a bag full of banknotes behind him on the U-Bahn.
The doomed outlaw couple is a new wave standby, but Run Lola Run is far too businesslike to indulge anyone’s romantic fantasy. (There is not a single musical interlude to tweak the viewer’s nostalgia.) Nor is there the least hint of a class angle. That the film’s heroine is a banker’s daughter turns out to be mere plot contrivance. Ultimately less useful than the gift of her petulant supersonic, glass-shattering scream, Lola’s provenance has scarcely more weight than the various robberies, shootings, and fatal accidents that occur in the several parallel universes.
Run Lola Run aspires to pure sensation. Whether the denouement of Tykwer’s mock interactive, beat-the-clock chase is predicated on chaos theory or blind chance, Franka Potente personifies the movie’s compact running time. Indeed, with her eye-catching vermilion hair, blue tank top, sherbet green dungarees, and expression of grim determination, she is a sort of all-purpose cinematic muse. Watching this virtual cartoon character dash through a nondescript residential district in summery Berlin, you can imagine her form enlivening anything from Muybridge’s pre-cinematic locomotion studies to Mad Max to Metal Gear Solid.
Switching back and forth between 35mm and video, color and black-and-white, live action and animation, Run Lola Run suggests an
80-minute chunk of MTV. Still, unencumbered by the narrative weight of kindred neo–new wave style parades like Trainspotting, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Go, Run Lola Run maintains its forward momentum through all manner of split screens, replays, and rapid-fire digressions.
Run Lola Run manages to be both philosophical and brainless. As its title suggests the name of the original new wave film, so this go-go abstraction feels as inexorable as the millennium. Subtitles may keep the movie from being a hit, but given its punchy editing, pulse-pounding score, and calisthenically enriched protagonist, Lola could have a long nontheatrical afterlife in health clubs across the world as a hipster exercise video.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me would be a neo–new wave movie if only for existing largely in a realm of movie references—mostly taken from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the 1997 movie which first defrosted Mike Myers’s Carnaby Street relic. But it has additional relevance for its burlesque of Richard Lester’s Swinging London commercialization of Godardian cinema.
Essentially the same ’60s/’90s joke as the original Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me—also directed by Jay Roach from Myers’s script—is no less funny, being similarly founded on groovy, pop-op set design and James Bond–parody parody, and enlivened by a now familiar mix of lewd anatomy jokes, bad puns, Mel Brooks character names (Ivana Humpalot) and Yiddishisms (Kreplachistan, Frau Farbissina), free-floating scatology, prancing go-go girls, and tacky psychedelic effects. (Myers’s other persona Dr. Evil
isn’t kidding when he cries “send in the clones!”) Certain bits of business are simply repeated, with Burt Bacharach grinning zombielike through his requisite cameo as though being rediscovered for the first time.
In short, the sequel attempts to place the original within quotation marks—embellishing, rather than extending, the original premise. Well before the opening credits end, The Spy Who Shagged Me has demolished its predecessor’s happy ending while reestablishing Myers’s exhibitionist credentials. Austin’s new bride turns out to be a fembot with machine-gun jumblies—giving him license to dance naked through the hotel lobby looking for birds. His replacement love interest (Heather Graham) is a luscious CIA operative who aspires to be the female Austin Powers.
But although Austin’s shag-pad includes his own pseudo-Warhol portrait and the plot contrives for him to be joined by his 10-minutes-future self, the nominal hero is overshadowed by his various alter-egos. The epicene Dr. Evil gets at least as much screen time as Austin, plus the theme song (“Evil is his one and only name”). There’s also a scaled-down Dr. Evil replica (32-inch Verne Troyer), complete with a bald kitten to cuddle, whom the original dubs “Mini-Me.” Myers further enhances the Peter Sellers effect and ups the gross-out quotient by appearing as Dr. Evil’s most disgusting henchman, the F/X-padded, kilt-wearing, slobbering Scotsman accurately known as Fat Bastard.
Although not as brilliantly scored as the original, Austin redux is even more a musical. While the obligatory polka-dot swirl disco scene, in which Graham dances down from the balcony to “American Woman,” prompts the unhappy—and accurate—suspicion that we’ll never again get to watch her frug, Dr. Evil has a memorable Marvin Gaye pas de deux with Frau Farbissina. Even better, when he sings “Just the Two of Us” to Mini-Me, he turns Will Smith’s rap ballad into the perfect anthem for a movie narcissistically encrusted with its own mythology.