Franka Potente, the star of Run Lola Run, has the lean-machine look of a champion sprinter. Pumping her arms and legs as she races around the city, the orange-punk-haired Lola is like a new-style industrial-age automaton: She’s a sexy speedster. The 34-year-old German director Tom Tykwer has made a movie that really zips along; it offers some of the same pleasures as the silent slapstick comedies, particularly the Keaton films, with their sense of how sheer velocity carries its own wit. Tykwer, whose third film this is, belongs to a new generation of moviemakers who see the cinema as a species of techno romp – as the playing field on which to try out all sorts of conjunctions with video games and animation and computer graphics (all of which Tykwer utilizes in this film). He’s interested in seeing how close he can come to making a movie with real people in real locations and yet have it all look like a great big cyber frolic.
His compositional eye and his pacing have a pared-down, lickety-split excitement; we always seem to be looking at precisely what we need to see and not a millimeter more. I am not, as a rule, a big fan of this movie-as-big-screen-computer-game trend; too often the filmmakers would rather dispense altogether with mere mortals, and the scenarios, as in, most recently, The Matrix, are thuddingly hocus-pocus-y. But Tykwer, along with his spiffy graphic sense, has an affinity for people. He knows what’s really important here: the classic romance of a woman racing to rescue her man. It’s what keeps everything winging along and on track. Tykwer has given the oldest story in the book a new cover.
The film recaps the same plot in three alternate ways. Lola’s boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), a low-level courier for a crime boss, accidentally loses his cash delivery of 100,000 marks and needs to make up the loss in twenty minutes or he’s kaput. Lola, whose moped has just been stolen, darts into action, whooshing like an Olympian past a phalanx of nuns, an aggravated mother with a baby carriage, a pesky bicyclist; she snarls traffic, almost gets herself run over, and, each time we see this story played out, ends up in her father’s bank office imploring him for the cash – which only leads to more sprinting and screeching. The story lines all end differently, but they link up with one another; when one twenty-minute spree closes out, it restarts – the rapid-fire turnover suggests the addictive rhythms of a video-game junkie.
Tykwer is a playful maniac. Although he opens the film with a quote from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” he’s not really hunting big game here. (I am nevertheless fully, if reluctantly, prepared for all the gassy critical exegeses about space-time and all that jazz this film will provoke.) What Tykwer is really after is the rush you get when you connect a primal, direct-action story to a love of speed. He knows how deliriously exciting it can be just to watch someone running; he’s captivated by the moods and energies you can create by accelerating a maneuver, a gesture – or slowing it down. Interspersed with Lola’s zigzag swiftness are moments when the action shifts into trancelike tableaux. In one horrifyingly comic scene, Lola’s glass-shattering shriek transfixes an entire roomful of gamblers in a casino. She’s like a human stun gun. But in the same scene, we’re also – literally – placed behind the spinning white ball in a roulette wheel. Tykwer just can’t keep away from speed, and he gets in real close.
He gets way up too: When Lola slants across a city square, he shoots from a dizzyingly elevated angle that brings out the Mondrian-like geometry in the terrain. This, we are made to feel, is how patterned the world looks if you get high enough. And yet even here, microscopic as she is, Lola remains central. Her smallness only emphasizes her pumping zeal, her ardor. Up close or miles away, she’s still a heroine in love.