The ''Swingers'' auteur Doug Liman trains his idiosyncratic eye on teens in his new film

April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

On the second-to-last day of shooting her new film Go, actress Sarah Polley is given an adorable, taupe-colored weimaraner. It’s delivered by a production assistant, who explains that the puppy’s a parting gift from director Doug Liman. Polley coos excitedly as it licks her face.

Ten minutes later the punchline’s delivered: It’s not a present at all — Liman borrowed the dog. ”Are you serious?” Polley squeals. ”That’s such a mean thing to do.”

Also kind of warped, a little dark, somewhat humiliating — and fairly typical of the frizzy-haired Liman, who, nearly a year later, is still bemused by the prank and eager to share another, his most inspired to date: a giant crate with an itemized invoice from the local sex shop, delivered to a friend staying at a hotel.

”Doug Liman is an adjective,” says Polley, in an attempt to explain his eccentricities. ”He’s a total mess of a person. He’s the sloppiest, grossest, funniest, most intelligent guy, and totally absent-minded. But he makes movies unlike anyone else.”

That was proved with his second film, the cult hit Swingers, a 1996 comedy of humiliation in the extreme, which launched the careers of its stars, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. And it is being underscored with his much-anticipated, critically acclaimed follow-up, the cinematic joyride Go. The film follows an ensemble of burned-out teens, soap opera actors, and assorted riffraff who literally collide when a drug deal is bungled. Liman initially resisted the project because it was set in the cities so indelibly associated with Swingers (L.A. and Las Vegas), but he was impressed enough with John August’s wired, irreverent script that he ultimately gave up a more lucrative studio deal directing Breakers, then set to star Anjelica Huston. Not that Liman got chicken liver with Go. The $6.5 million budget beats Swingers‘ by more than $6 million, and the cast is a who’s who of hot young things: Polley (The Sweet Hereafter), Katie Holmes (Dawson’s Creek), Scott Wolf (Party of Five), and Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire).

The dark comedy tests not only Liman’s ability to deliver a solid successor to Swingers but also whether the Clearasil set — traditionally fed such slaphappy fare as She’s All That — will buy into a Pulp Fiction-alized version of the wonder years.

”I think teens are really smart,” says the 32-year-old Liman, who sold Columbia on the pic when independent financing fell through weeks before production began. ”Go will show you don’t have to spoon-feed them garbage and that they can choose to see an original movie.”

The Brown University-educated Liman has been making movies since he was 6 years old, and is obviously an accomplished and avid filmmaker. So why the three-year wait between films? It wasn’t for lack of offers (including Good Will Hunting). Rather, Liman chose to direct commercials (for Airwalk and Levi’s, among others) to be close to his ailing father, noted New York City attorney Arthur Liman (chief counsel to the Senate committee investigating Iran-contra), who died of cancer in 1997. And his filmmaking clearly hasn’t suffered for the respite. ”With the camera, Doug fits you, the audience member, into the room,” says Wolf. ”There’s a great energy and immediacy to it.”

Breckin Meyer,
Jay Mohr,
Sarah Polley,
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