Like much of the later work by writer-director John Sayles, Go For Sisters is overlong, style-less, and dramatically undercooked. The last is something of an achievement, considering the movie is about a parole officer (LisaGay Hamilton), a parolee (Yolonda Ross), and a half-blind private eye (Edward James Olmos) traveling to Mexico disguised as a wedding band in order to rescue a border smuggler who’s been kidnapped by Chinese gangsters.
Sayles’ work has always been marked by social conscience, which can yield striking results, as in his pro-union period piece Matewan. More often that not, though, it produces movies that are preachy and uninvolving, substituting liberal political angles for depth. Such is the case here: Go For Sisters strikes out in many directions—the parole system, prison romance, police corruption, border relations, the history of Chinese immigrants in Mexico—but never finds the tension, personal or political, that it needs to sustain itself. Even the private investigator’s bad eyesight—a textbook tension-building device—has no bearing on the plot. Viewers may be left with the impression that Sayles wanted them to know that a person with severe macular degeneration can still do their job—an idea that, like the film itself, is more admirable in conception than execution.
Go For Sisters is chock-full of similar dead ends: a forgotten 19th-century tunnel, hidden under a travel agent’s office, that runs from Mexicali to Calexico; an awkward meeting between a lesbian ex-con and her jailhouse girlfriend, who is keeping her past a secret from her husband; a scene with a middle-aged Chinese woman who sells devotional paintings of luchador and cult movie star Santo. Each of these threatens to take Go For Sisters in an interesting and unpredictable direction, but instead serves only to undermine its already shaky pacing.
The movie’s one bright spot is Ross’ turn as recovering junkie Fontayne. Her performance feels authentic, but not because it plays off of addict archetypes. Ross’ wide-set eyes convey a personality that is both intent and defeated; she has the air of a lifelong loner who has struggled with herself and won, but realizes that her victory is tenuous, and must be managed perpetually. Her resolve has the sort of unspoken complexity that Go For Sisters otherwisesorely lacks.