Review: ‘Spun’

Another film dedicated to the idea of reproducing a druggy state of mind as acutely as possible, "Spun" accomplishes that aim with the welcome bonus of considerable humor. Manic, bawdy and anarchic in spirit, the feature debut of musicvid wunderkind Jonas Akerlund is limited in its appeal by its highly specific single intent.

Another film dedicated to the idea of reproducing a druggy state of mind as acutely as possible, “Spun” accomplishes that aim with the welcome bonus of considerable humor. Manic, bawdy and anarchic in spirit, the feature debut of musicvid wunderkind Jonas Akerlund is limited in its appeal by its highly specific single intent, but the more hardcore portion of the crowd that supported “Trainspotting” and “Requiem for a Dream” will get behind this outrageously grungy and whacked-out walk on the wild side, resulting in good returns in specialized release. So-called “director’s cut” preemed at CineVegas contains a number of elements that no doubt would trigger an NC-17 rating, so going out unrated would seem preferable to cutting for an R tag.

Even in this era of Dogme grittiness and severe image-quality manipulation, the parched, bleached look “Spun” adopts from the outset appears extreme. In the harsh light of L.A., Ross (Jason Schwartzman), sets out to score some crystal meth from low-end dealer Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), which sets in motion an insane series of events that plays out over the course of Ross’ three-day speed binge. Stylistically, there is considerable overlap with the recent “Salton Sea,” but without that film’s trumped-up sadism and literal criminal overkill.

Reportedly a fictionalized version of a weekend one of the writers, Will De Los Santos, was lucky to survive, pic sees everything from the hyperventilating perspective of the eternally sweating Ross. While nutso Spider Mike bounces off the walls searching for his missing stash, Ross encounters latter’s g.f. Cookie (Mena Suvari, sporting knotty hair and outhouse-brown teeth), pimply no-account Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) and sexy stripper Nikki (Brittany Murphy), who takes him to meet her b.f., the Cook (Mickey Rourke), whose dingy motel “kitchen” serves up only one dish, but just the one Ross craves.

By combining extreme close-ups, nervous cutting and accelerated movements with whooshing sounds when Ross tanks up on speed, Akerlund snaps the viewer into the protag’s hyped-up zone, which serves to cast subsequent events into a dramatic mode that’s both dire and antic. At the peak of his mania, Ross takes a stripper (Chloe Hunter) to his apartment for some blistering sex, then cuffs her to his bed and tapes over her eyes and mouth and leaves the poor naked woman there for the remainder of the weekend. Ricocheting off of this is some wild animation steeped in sexual paranoia and mirth, as well as a proclamation by the Cook in front of an American flag in which JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech is recast in the dirtiest possible terms.

Events of serious significance to those concerned take place over the three days — Frisbee is arrested and forced by cops to wear a wire in order to bust Spider Mike, Nikki’s time with Ross inspires her to make a tentative stab at changing her life, and the Cook similarly moves on to a new phase — but through a drug daze these milestones assume the same weight as minor domestic incidents. Most lunatic set piece, which is pushed to the extremes of humorous vulgarity, involves Cookie taking a particularly noisy dump, Spider Mike trying to get off either by having sex with Cookie or via a phone partner, Cookie discovering Frisbee’s wire while putting the make on him and Spider Mike hopping around the house wearing nothing but a sock on his boner while realizing he’s been set up and with the cops closing in.

Despite the limitations imposed by the subject matter and rigorously maintained pedal-to-the-metal pacing, “Spun” keeps spinning inventively until hitting a few speed bumps toward the end. There’s not that much Schwartzman can do in playing an emotionally and mentally incoherent man who is principally a vehicle for the speed-soaked p.o.v., but several performances are very fine, notably those by Leguizamo as the completely unhinged dealer and Murphy as the sweet tough-luck girl. Eric Roberts is amusing and all but unrecognizable as a bewigged moneyman adorned by two boy-toys.

But easily dominating the picture with a totally disarming turn is Rourke, and when was the last time you could say that about this long-in-disgrace actor? After who-knows how many facial and body modifications and years in the wilderness playing leads in useless straight-to-video low-budgeters and supporting parts in the odd A feature, Rourke has found a role in which he can entertain instead of just brood and preen. He’s in ratty cowboy mode here, and even though the Cook is no better off than any of the other speed freaks in his orbit — he can’t even afford a car — he still stands apart from the pack due to his perceived smarts and the suspicion that he still may have a trick or two up his sleeve. Rourke shares his relish for the role with the audience, making an objectively objectionable character a figure of unexpected grace and charm.

Tech aspects are purposefully ragged, with the exception of the omnipresent soundtrack, which propels the picture as much as any other factor.



A Silver Nitrate release in association with Amuse Pictures, Little Magic Films, Saggitaire, of a Muse/Blacklight production in association with Brink Films and Stone Canyon Entertainment. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Chris Hanley, Fernando Sulichin, Timothy Wayne Peternel, Danny Vinik. Executive producers, Bradford Schlei, Nicola Doring, Kiki Miyake, Mark Boone, Mark Mower, Ash Shah. Co-producers, Vincent Maraval, Alan De La Mata, David Hillary, Thierry Klemniuk, Will De Los Santos, Creighton Vero. Directed by Jonas Akerlund. Screenplay, Will De Los Santos, Creighton Vero.


Camera (color), Eric Broms; editors, Leonard Palmestaal, Akerlund; music, Billy Corgan; production designer, Richard Lassalle; art director, Jason Hamilton; set decorator, Lisa Tong; costume designer, B; sound (Dolby Digital), David Chamaw, Albee Gordon; sound designer, Eric Thorsell; associate producers, Clark McCutchen, Chris Fisher; assistant director, John O'Rourke; second unit director, Palmestaal; casting, Renita Whited. Reviewed at CineVegas Film Festival, Las Vegas, June 9, 2002. Running time: 101 MIN.


Ross - Jason Schwartzman Spider Mike - John Leguizamo Cookie - Mena Suvari Frisbee - Patrick Fugit Nikki - Brittany Murphy The Cook - Mickey Rourke Cop #1 - Peter Stormare Cop #2 - Alexis Arquette The Lesbian Neighbor - Deborah Harry The Man - Eric Roberts April - Chloe Hunter L.A. Sad Girl - Julia Mendoza Giggles - Elisa Bocanega Fat Boy - Josh Peck Dr. K - Larry Drake Amy - Charlotte Ayanna Bartender - Ron Jeremy Emcee - Tony Kaye

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