Run Lola Run (1998) Movie Review

“Run Lola Run,” if nothing else, certainly lives up to its billing. Our heroine, played by a orange-haired Franka Potente as the titular character, certainly does a lot of running. I’ve never seen a movie by Tykwer before, but he’s certainly someone to watch out for. There is something incredibly strange about “Run Lola Run.” For one, the movie constantly moves — only to stop on a dime for extremely quiet moments. This makes the viewer a little disoriented. One second Lola is running all around the city, and the next she’s quietly robbing her father’s bank; one moment she’s helping her boyfriend rob a supermarket, and the next she’s laying in bed with him talking teen love talk.

The story around “Lola” isn’t anything special. We’ve all seen it before because it’s yet another variation on the “oh crap I lost the big bad mafia guy’s (insert item here) and now if I don’t get it back or replace it I’m a dead man” plot. It’s been done to death, and I suspect Tykwer, the movie’s writer and director, knows it as well. In an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the lost money (in the movie, the money is lost by our hero and found by a bum on a subway train) would be called the “maguffin” — that is, the item of need that sets the main story in motion.

Remember the suitcase in the excellent Robert DeNiro thriller “Ronin”? You never find out what’s in the suitcase, and it doesn’t really matter, because the suitcase only exists to push the story forward. It’s a movie device, one popularized by Hitchcock during his heyday. The device doesn’t have to be an item of desire, it could be a situation. In “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock used the old “mistaken identity” standard as his maguffin.

The lost money is unimportant in “Lola.” It just serves as an excuse for Tykwer to show us what he’s capable of doing with a movie camera — and from this movie, he’s certainly capable of quite a bit. It’s amazing how he balances the quiet moments with the kinetic ones. It’s as if Tykwer knows just when exactly the viewer is getting winded from all of Lola’s running, and like Lola, needs to stop and catch our breaths.

What Tykwer doesn’t quite succeed with is the backstory with the father. Lola’s father, who may or may not be her actual father. (You’ll understand this enigmatic statement when you see the movie.) The father’s backstory is not fleshed out and, to be honest, is pretty bloody uninteresting. Boring, I think, might be the correct description. Is he really Lola’s biological father? Is he cheating on Lola’s mother (who is also cheating on him)? Is his girlfriend at the bank really pregnant with his kid? Or is it someone else’s? Who cares? Why am I talking to myself?

So many questions, yet I couldn’t care less about the answers. I can’t help but wonder if the movie might have been better without those questions, since it seemed that even Tykwer didn’t really care about giving us the answers.

The father’s backstory seemed out of place and unnecessary, but I have a theory. With the movie’s short time of slightly over 80 minutes (including credits), I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Tykwer was trying to pad the movie. At 80 minutes plus, “Run Lola Run” wouldn’t be accepted as a straight-to-video movie by most video retailers in America. And this, I believe, is one of the movie’s shortcomings: there simply isn’t much going on despite all the running and hyperactivity onscreen. The plot is basic and the lynchpin of the movie — Lola’s search for $100,000 to replace the money Manni lost — is not enough to sustain a whole movie. So Tykwer resorts to tricks with what I call “alternative timelines” — that is, we see what might have happened if Lola chose this path, or that path, etc. You get the idea.

I also can’t help but get the feeling that “Run Lola Run” was supposed to be a short film blown up to a full-length feature (just barely).

Tykwer has just completed another movie called “The Princess and the Warrior” starring, once again, Franka Potente, that I’m looking forward to seeing. I have to admire Ms. Potente as Lola. Potente, without having the “Hollywood good looks,” is actually very attractive in a tough sort of way. She’s the kind of babe you’d want on your side if you got into a scrape. And Potente played the character with great toughness when she has to be and great vulnerability at the same time. A marvelous performance all around.

Manni, on the other hand, didn’t have much to do but stand around a phone booth. Of course, the movie is called “Run Lola Run,” not “Run Manni Run.”

Tom Tykwer (director) / Tom Tykwer (screenplay)
CAST: Franka Potente …. Lola
Moritz Bleibtreu …. Manni

Buy Run Lola Run on DVD