"Run Lola Run," a major hit last year in its native Germany, opens with shots of pedestrians walking city streets at a strange, sped-up pace, somewhat reminiscent of the surreal imagery of Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (1983). A grinning, uniformed man looks directly at the camera and tells us what's up: "The game lasts 90 minutes. That's a fact. Everything else is pure theory. Here we go."
And then we're off, hurtled onto the street with an animated version of the title character (Franka Potente), an unlikely heroine with flaming orange hair who spends nearly all of the film's 81 minutes literally on the run. She's desperately attempting to save her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), from death at the hands of a bloodthirsty gangster.
Tom Tykwer, a young screenwriter/director, making only his fourth feature (titled "Lola rennt" in German), employs color and black-and-white film, as well as video, zooms, split screens, jump cuts, instant replays, still photographs and other jarring devices. All these high-impact approaches come together in the service of this outrageously vigorous piece of pop moviemaking that ought to relieve a little premillennial tension: If the results are as inspired as this eye candy, then who cares if contemporary cinema has become so heavily influenced by MTV-style editing, video games and the cult of Tarantino?
Tykwer's film, its form somewhat akin to the structure of Go and Sliding Doors, thrice returns to the same starting point: a desperate call from a phone booth, where Manni is anxiously awaiting his fate. He accidentally left a bag containing 100,000 deutsche marks on the subway, where it was picked up by a homeless man.
Lola has only 20 minutes to bail out her lover, or he'll rob a nearby supermarket in a last-minute attempt to come up with the cash for the crime boss. If neither plan works, Manni most likely will be murdered for his costly blunder, at precisely high noon. Go, Lola!
Each time out, Lola races down the stairs of her home and begins rapidly pumping her arms and leaping along sidewalks and roads. She nearly slams into a car, refuses a man's offer to purchase his bicycle and surprises her bank-executive father at work, where he's in the midst of a life-changing conversation with his girlfriend. The game's chief marker points also include an old Hollywood gag -- a group of men attempting to cross the street carrying a giant sheet of plate glass.
Along the way, Lola encounters passersby whose futures are telegraphed with a lightning-fast series of snapshots, each set of which offers dramatically different outcomes. The first and second versions of her voyage end in similar ways, while the third trip across the terrain offers a surprise twist that's just as feasible. Or not.
"Run Lola Run," in part, is a study of the amazing mutability of fate, the way momentary decisions can trigger a chain of unexpected consequences. Then again, it may just be about one filmmaker's uncanny ability to jolt viewers with pure visual energy.
Let's start again. Press play.