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'Run Lola Run': A Rush to Nowhere

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 1999

  Movie Critic

'Run Lola Run'
Franka Potente faces many obstacles, over and over again, while trying to save her boyfriend. (Sony Picture Classics)

Tom Tykwer
Franka Potente;
Moritz Bleibtreu;
Herbert Knaup;
Nina Petri;
Armin Rohde
Running Time:
1 hour, 21 minutes
Mild profanity and violence. In German with subtitles
Hasn't someone argued that the best way to kill something is to overpraise it? If so, then "Run Lola Run" is in danger of suffocation by the weight of excess adjectives.

This little German film turns out not to be good so much as different, which is not the same thing at all. Sitting through it is a pure shot of giggle gas, but two hours later you realize you haven't seen much, you've learned less, and you're hungry for a movie.

Its central idea is certainly true, if banal. That is that life's course, far from being predestined or controlled by a superior intelligence or will, is instead a structure of utter fragility, with each rogue happenstance leading one way or another. The socks you choose may decide the woman you marry. Stoop to pick up that penny? You may miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Don't stoop and you may get decapitated by a whirling tire off a police car. As Earl Weaver said about baseball, everything affects everything.

In this case, we watch a 20-minute scenario unfold from the same starting point three different times, but each time a minor, entirely circumstantial difference leads it into a different universe, and the scenarios' results turn out to be as far from each other as possible.

A young Berliner named Lola (Franka Potente), whose helmet of phony nuclear sky-burst red-orange hair suggests post-punk anger but whose comfy home life suggests petit bourgeois stability, receives a phone call from her sleaz oid boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleib treu), who's just managed to lose the 100,000 marks (about $60,000) he'd picked up for a gangster. Duh, him dumb. But that's okay because him also pretty. He tells Lola that if she can't get him the dough in 20 minutes, he's afraid the gangster will kill him. Lola, who apparently loves him very much, takes off.

When she runs, Potente doesn't represent grace so much as power. With piston like haunches and an accumulation of gluteus maximus musculature not seen this side of a R. Crumb cartoon, she pounds the pavement with a thundering remorselessness. The thump-thump-thump of her boots establishes the kinetic rhythm of the story, which is pure middle-distance sprint, the quarter-miler's desperate balance between speed and stamina.

Twice, the stories steer toward tragedy, suggesting a bookie's take on existence: Life is 2 to 1 against. The two bad takes involve her banker father (Herbert Knaup), a nasty rotten snake if there ever was one, and her encounters with him fill her with a nihilism that spills toward obliteration. In the third, freaks of happenstance keep the two from meeting, and the outcome is much brighter.

The movie is extremely clever, if overproduced. Fascinatingly, the director, Tom Tykwer, manipulates the same minor characters and props throughout each story, but little tricks of timing give them completely different meanings. To push his point on the meaninglessness of luck, he'll briefly stop the film and whirl through a photo montage of the possible different fates of each of these minor characters, who sometimes end up as lottery winners and other times end up as corpses. All that – and the pulsating music (Tykwer wrote that, too) and the flibbertigibbety editing scheme – make the movie sublimely seductive. It's fun. Hey, it's neat.

But it's also simple-minded and squalid. Nobody in it is interesting, and if they ever stood still, you'd find them reprehensible. The values – headed by pleasure, defined as instantaneous appetite gratification, at the expense of everything else – are deeply shallow. Nobody's very good looking. The colors are vulgarly garish. Manni could use a good butt-whipping. Lola could use new hair, better clothes and a job. As for der schlechter Vater, he needs years of therapy and, if that fails, a nice lobotomy.

"Run Lola Run" is kind of like watching a John Waters film on fast forward with all the good parts cut out. It's empty of charm and meaning, but it certainly kills time, for those who wish it dead.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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