TIME BECOMES something of a roulette wheel in "Run Lola Run." For Lola (Franka Potente), who has to think fast to save the neck of her boyfriend, time becomes a matter of life and death. But the great thing is, she gets to roll that wheel again and again, until she gets it right.
Or does she? That's the dramatic tension in this fabulously kinetic German movie, for which you have to imagine "Groundhog Day" as made by hip Berlin filmmakers.
How did Lola find herself in this fix?
Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), a courier for a gangster, has just done something terrible. Ducking from a tram to avoid transit cops, he accidentally left a bag on the train. A bag containing 100,000 marks -- that's a whole lot of dough in Deutschland -- which he's supposed to deliver to said gangster. By noon. That's in 20 minutes. And that's where his girlfriend Lola comes in. He just called her, petrified.
Don't worry, she tells him. She'll think of something. She has no car and no money and time is ticking. She starts running in Manni's direction -- way the heck across town.
Run, Lola, run.
Clock faces, wristwatches and digital signs hang ominously over Lola's head as she makes her first stop at the bank where her father works.
He's a bigwig, she figures. Maybe he can whip out the cash. She'll worry about paying it back later. Impossible, says her father, who happens to be busy having an argument with his mistress -- who has just sprung a bombshell piece of news on him . . .
In writer/director Tom Tykwer's movie, this is the first of her attempts to save Manni. When it doesn't work, Lola almost literally gets to use the rewind button -- through an inexplicable act of God or postmodern scriptwriting.
Incidental variations in the path taken -- ranging from whether she runs faster to whom she bumps into -- make all the difference in each subsequent run.
That lady pushing a carriage that Lola sideswiped the first time? Lola misses her next time. And through an extraordinary flash-forward, we see that the pram pusher's life will be entirely different -- and for the better. The same thing happens for a car that's pulling out. The first time, there's an accident, the second time -- well, this is the kind of thing you'll have to see for yourself.
How are they going to find that bag? Is Manni going to be killed by the vicious gangster? Strange and one of a kind, "Run Lola Run" is a kinetic experiment with pulsating music, an arty piece of fun hokum and the most non-demanding fun I've ever had with a movie in which everyone speaks German. Made by X-Filme, a vital new production arm in Germany, this is another example of cinema made outside of the traditional Hollywood sphere, and it pulsates with its own originality, thank you very much. Check it out. But don't think you can turn the clock back to see it again. You'll have to wait for the next performance and pay just the same.
RUN LOLA RUN (R, 81 minutes) -- The Motion Picture Association of America's rating seems unusually harsh: There are minor sexual situations, some violence, and I don't remember any obscenity. Maybe it's rated R for having subtitles. In German with subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5 and Shirlington 7.
CAPTION: Franka Potente faces many obstacles, over and over again, while trying to save her boyfriend.