2003-aschCall them midnight movies. Call them exploitation. There's a class of flicks produced purely to make your skin crawl. Spun happens to be one of the most outrageous and least defensible of these films. This doesn't mean it's a bad movie.
The biggest problem with Spun is that it is entertaining. After all, a gang of Hollywood's hottest young actors, a controversial young director and even rock star Billy Corgan of Zwan put their prodigious talents together for this flick. All the same, they pooled their talents for the sake of evil. This is a comedy about a very nasty drug: methamphetamine. These Hollywood stars are just lucky that evil can be fun.
With a thin plot la Slackers, but without the bohemian charm, Spun begins with Ross (played by Jason Schwartzman) searching for speed at one of the most vile-looking places created by a film crew. It's the graffiti-scarred, filth-encrusted house of drug dealer Spider Mike (the very funny, very jumpy John Leguizamo, who must have been born for this role). With Spider Mike throwing a paranoid fit because he can't find his stash, another house guest, a stripper named Nikki (Brittany Murphy), promises Ross drugs if he gives her a ride to the motel room/meth lab run by her boyfriend, the Cook (Mickey Rourke).
Under the spell of the Cook's crank, Ross happily becomes his errand boy, picking up chemicals, driving Nikki to her strip-club gigs, and picking up more chemicals for a growing cavalcade of creeps. Meanwhile, he plays phone tag with a mysterious girlfriend, plays bondage games with a gorgeous stripper, plays innocent from the prying eyes of neighbor Debbie Harry and takes a lot more speed.
Oh, yeah, corrupt, drug-taking police tail this group and plan a big dragnet on them. Sound fun? The movie makes it so, and that's the worst crime of Spun. It glorifies speed like Trainspotting glorified heroin and Barfly glorified alcoholism. But at least Trainspotting did show its characters experiencing excruciating physical and mental pain from their addictions. With Spun, speed seems like nothing but a freaky good time. No one overdoses; no one experiences more hurt than a sitcom character. Is any of this a crime? Is it a coincidence Mickey Rourke appears in two of these drug movies?
For the gross-out connoisseurs, Spun takes filth to new depths. We get to see close-ups of Leguizamo shooting up, a constipated Mena Suvari taking a dump with a gratuitous view of her product, and Schwartzman basically torturing a woman on his sleazy motel bed. Vile.
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And yet Swedish director Jonas Akerlund's talent is undeniable. Few could shape what should have been a migraine-inducing movie into one with brisk, comic pace. There are novel cartoonish moments, such as animation of Schwartzman's hallucination in a stripper's bar or a cash register-like ring buzzing every time someone does crank. They're funny, but just like hanging out with a real speed freak, they quickly become annoying.
Even more alarming will be the inevitable marketing future of this movie. Of course it's going to have a cult run on video and midnight movies. Of course hundreds, perhaps thousands of bobblehead dolls of the characters will be sold. Of course your local speed dealer is probably going to make money off of this one, too. Where's the fun in that?
Then again, it's too extreme to assume a movie will foster drug use. After all, a movie is just a movie, and it's good for the culture that a director has the liberty to experiment with something so hazardous. Following this line of thinking, perhaps another critic, a total quote whore, would call Spun defiant, but there are some things simply not worthy of defiance.
Spun was directed by Jonas Akerlund; written by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero; produced by Chris Hanley, Fernando Sulichin, Timothy Wayne Peternel and Danny Vinik; and stars Jason Schwartzman, John Leguizamo, Brittany Murphy, Mena Suvari, Patrick Fugit, Peter Stormare, Alexis Arquette, Deborah Harry, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke. Now playing at Regal Foothill Towne Center, Foothill Ranch, and Edwards University, Irvine.