An amiable throwback to the kind of kids adventure films we used to get on the reg back in the day – think BMX Bandits and Frog Dreaming, both by Ozploitation veteran Brian Trenchard-Smith – the WA-shot Go! Never even attempts to rewrite the rulebook, instead relying on recognizable archetypes, appealing performances and a suitable brisk clip to keep the wheels spinning until it crosses the finish line.
Set in Busselton, the film follows new-kid-in-town Jack (William Lodder), who has moved to the sticks with his mother (Frances O’Connor) as he comes up against local bully Dean (Cooper van Grootel), who doesn’t like anyone muscling in on his patch, or making eyes at his tomboy sister, Mandy (Anastasia Bampos). The field of competition? Go-kart racing, because why not? Jack has a knack for precision driving, so with crusty track owner Patrick (Richard Roxburgh in full grizzled mentor mode) showing him the ropes, Mandy, whose family seem to be the Paynes of go-karting, his chief engineer, and comedy sidekick Colin (Darius Amarfio Jefferson) along for the ride, can he win it all and prove himself better than his rival?
Well, that’s hardly a question in this sort of thing, is it? With a narrative model that is basically “The Karate Kid with little cars” and the script for the warmly regarded Paper Planes under his belt, screenwriter Steve Worland gives us a solid if unambitious “believe and achieve” kids fable that director Owen Trevor, who cut his teeth on Top Gear and so knows a thing or two about shooting fast vehicles, mounts handsomely.
There are times when Go! really sings – Jack’s triumphant test drive down the length of the famous Busselton jetty being a notable highlight. There are also times when it drops the ball a little, whether by butting up against its obviously limited budget – the shop Jack’s mum runs is basically a roll-up garage with a few sparse shelves of random canned goods – or a too-slavish adherence to its influences – Roxburgh’s Patrick really is a white Mr Miyagi, especially when you see the various training processes he subjects our hero to. There’s also a few clunky tonal errors here and there that could have benefited from a quick re-edit just to make sure the audience is really picking up what the film is putting down – a scene between Jack and his mother set to an Icehouse tune plays like a romantic scene, and it really, really shouldn’t.
It’s hard to say if there’s an audience for this exact flavour of family film still out there – the current dominant fare for the younger crew is much more rapid-fire and garish (Teen Titans Go! To the Movies seems like a good point of comparison, and the title fits), while older teens and tweens are well served by superhero flicks and SF-tinted action movies. Go! really feels like a throwback to a more innocent time, and a well-made example thereof, but its hard to say who’s gonna turn out for it. Still, a gregarious charm and winning performances (Bampos in particular is worth keeping an eye on) means those who do show up will find something to enjoy. (6/10)
*Reviewed at CinefestOz 2019