Go! (2020)

It’s not the journey. It’s who’s along for the ride.

It’s summer in Western Australia, and Jack Hooper (William Lodder) is the new kid on the block, having just arrived with his mother Christie (Frances O’Connor), as they look to start over following the death of her husband (Adam T Perkins). It’s not long before Jack has accepted an invite to a birthday party at a go-kart track, quickly making a new buddy in the awkward, but well-meaning Colin (Darius Amarfio Jefferson). Despite having never driven one of the zippy little vehicles before, Jack makes an impression on the birthday girl and aspiring race-car engineer Mandy Zeta (Anastasia Bampos), her angsty, ambitious brother Dean (Cooper van Grootel), and even the gruff track owner Patrick (Richard Roxburgh).

With the racing bug having well and truly bitten him, Jack gets serious about training to compete, convincing the reluctant Patrick to skill him up and get him ready. Meanwhile, Mandy sneakily helps the boys piece together and tune up an old kart, without the knowledge of her seriously competitive racing family. As the competitions begin, Jack starts to realize that the biggest threat to winning is his own inability to trust in his team and keep present with each moment on the track.

‘Aim straight, accelerate and don’t die — we’re only halfway through the movie, mate.’

Growing up in the ’90s, I recall how kids’ movies were dominated by live-action fare, with the occasional animated movie being thrown into the mix. Fast forward to today, and now the low-key live-action aesthetic is the anomaly. I’m sure it’s a combination of studio and audience demand that keep it so, along with things like budget and production speed, but I really do miss well made live-action kids flicks. It was with great surprise and open arms that I first encountered Go! — not to be confused with Doug Liman’s fun, hypo teen thriller of the same name from 1999 — and I was delighted to find it pretty much met my expectations of delivering an entertaining, energetic adventure.

Essentially playing a bit like a teen version of Ford v Ferrari (2019) meets The Karate Kid (1984), Steve Worland’s screenplay knows exactly what it’s going for and is completely unapologetic about it — and that’s to give us a speedy 100 or so mins of go-kart action. Having penned the acclaimed Aussie hit Paper Planes (2014) as well, it does seem Worland is serious about entertaining children without talking down to them or getting too preachy about what they should take away from the ride. The biggest strengths of the story here lie in the pacing and the organic way the relationship between Jack and Mandy grows, without feeling like a forced subplot. Director Owen Trevor, having come from a solid racing background directing episodes of Top Gear UK (2008-12), builds on the script’s strengths in casting William Lodder and Anastasia Bampos (debuting here) to play off each other, while keeping the on-track action thrilling when it counts, topping it off with a groovy soundtrack.

‘I thought this was, you know, a go kart.’

The cast do exceptionally well when given more dramatic material — it almost seems superfluous to point out that Richard Roxburgh, Breath (2017), one of Australia’s most consistent performers, plays the hard-edged Patrick well in a choice piece of star casting. Darius Amarfio Jefferson, who’s playing ‘the funny guy,’ just can’t make the comedy work, but I don’t think it’s all his fault — I got the impression that he is just not naturally like the character he portrays and hence, struggles with the material. A similar thing happens with Dan Wyllie, Jasper Jones (2017), who, despite his dabbles into comedy, is just plain awkward. Frances O’Connor, The Conjuring 2 (2016), once a cherished performer with decent feature roles, seems relegated to a thankless spot here, but generally makes it work. The standouts though are William Lodder and Anastasia Bampos, who have a bright future ahead; Bampos has a presence that reflects that of her character, coming across as older and wiser than she is, while Lodder has a dashing charisma without being unrelatable — he genuinely feels like the teenager down the street.

Given all the good on display, it’s unfortunate then that the more comedic aspects just don’t ever fly; whether it’s Colin with a throwaway line or the unnecessary romantic subplot instigated by Jack to get his mother and policeman Barry (Dan Wyllie) on a date, the latter, ironically coming across as the complete antithesis of the better-developed teen romance. There’s also the overdone way that filmmaker Trevor integrates the memories of the father, having him appearing in digitized blocky flashbacks and, at one point, a full-size videogame styled ‘ghost car’ racing next to Jack, in a call-back to a racing game that he plays regularly. Thankfully, in the scheme of the whole, these moments are fleeting and clearly a bit of misguided seasoning added by writer Steve Worland to the core story at hand.

Waiting to Exhale

With an unapologetically straight-up light action attitude, Go! offers a solid alternative to the CG animated flicks dominating the kids’ movies at the moment and deserves a bigger audience — so try to give it a spin while it’s still in theatres, ‘you’re burning sunlight, chop-chop.’ Sadly, I think it’s unlikely to gain the footing it needs in its theatrical exhibition, but here’s hoping things may pick up on the home circuit.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Go! is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia