By Owen Gleiberman
Updated June 25, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Run Lola Run is a madly spinning top of a movie — one that, I suspect, will eventually be regarded as the art-house smash that heralded the 21st century. Its 34-year-old writer-director, Tom Tykwer, is German, but it’s obvious that his chief cinematic role models are not Herzog or Fassbinder. The ferociously infectious, candy-colored jump-cut style of Run Lola Run is pure, propulsive pop. The movie would have been unthinkable prior to the age of MTV and Tarantino, Oliver Stone and Trainspotting. Still, for all its pulsating, razor-edited exuberance, the film is ultimately as unique as its sources. In its speed and elegant hyper-precision, its celebration of action as devotion, it’s a new-style girl-power daydream.

The film’s burbly techno soundtrack never stops, and neither does its heroine, Lola (Franka Potente), a tattooed Berlin punkette with flame-red hair who has just 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 marks for her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). He owes the money to a gangster, but he left a plastic bag full of cash on the subway, where it fell into the hands of a derelict. At noon, Manni plans to walk into a supermarket and commit a desperate robbery, virtually ensuring his doom.

In just 81 minutes, with the music acting as the heroine’s (and audience’s) heartbeat, Run Lola Run plays out three alternate versions of Lola’s pavement-pounding odyssey. The versions differ in such subtle yet galvanic ways that, far more than Sliding Doors or even Go, the movie gets you laughing in exhilaration at its moment-to-moment zigzags of coincidence and fate. Each time, Lola bounds down the steps of her parents’ bourgeois palace, encounters a guy who tries to sell her his bicycle, almost runs into a car, enters the bank where her father is an executive, and bursts into his office, where she startles him in the middle of a heart-to-heart talk with his mistress. In each case, the tiniest shifts in a character’s mood produce split-second changes in decision, action, outcome. Tykwer stages the movie as an existential chain reaction, peppered by animated interludes, raw video bites, and rapid-fire karmic montages of the people Lola passes (we see contrasting possibilities of their futures played out in a series of deadpan snapshots). A