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Spun (Jonas Åkerlund) 2002


    If music video helmer Jonas Akerlund’s low-budget, high-octane feature directorial debut Spun, doesn’t quite wash away the swill of whatever hands-off, squeaky clean drug movies that have come before it, it at least has the nerve to make swill an aesthetic of its own. This all-star romp about a group of Los Angeles-based crystal meth addicts takes place in a twisted version of America that exists only as a foreigner could envision it. Only professional wrestling and reality Cops-style shows seem to show on the airwaves, and the freedom of speech afforded by the Constitution seems to have resulted mostly in a proliferation of porn shacks and sweeping speeches about sex that would make Cheech’s character in From Dusk Till Dawn blush. When the movie begins, stylistic element in the film seems appropriately cranked off the charts, but then you realize that none of the characters are even high yet. It only escalates from there into a frenzy of animated fantasies and fast forwarded footage that could challenge Requiem for a Dream in the kinetic cinematic assault department.


    Since Spun is a comedy, the preordained moral (“Just Say No!”) doesn’t irk like it does in Aronfosky’s film. Instead the whole enterprise seems calculated as an opportunity for us to see pretty celebrities act pretty ugly. Can anything compare in shock value to the moment where we get to see not only American Beauty Mena Suvari as her green-toothed crack ho strains on the toilet in an attempt to go to the bathroom, but also a close-up of the end result? Perhaps John Leguizamo’s action sequence in which he only wears a sock on his crotch tops it, but I’m trying desperately to forget it. In addition to this smorgasbord of hideousness, which is played almost entirely for kicks, we get to see Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit as an impossibly pimpled meth-head, Debbie Harry as a butch lesbian phone sex operator, Jason Schwartzman as our grizzled and addicted protagonist, and Mickey Rourke and Brittany Murphy as “the Cook” and Cookie, who keep this group of losers well-stocked (at least when they aren’t losing their stash). Murphy is the standout of the cast, perhaps because her default acting mode is so close to the hyper-fast babble that everyone else begins talking in when they get buzzed. The ebullient perkiness that she’s always shown in the past is twisted into something more desperate and sad here to great effect. It’s only when Åkerlund begins his extended musical montages (which unfortunately occur quite frequently) that the film seems to switch undeniably into music video mode. Several sequences, each a few minutes long, contribute to destroy the film’s otherwise snappy pacing. Heavy-handed moralizing starts kicking in about the time that it's least welcome too, and you have to wonder if it's supposed to be ironic or something, since it feels so wholly inappropriate in this context. Otherwise, Spun is about as wild a ride as you’re likely to see on screen this year.

* * * 


Jeremy Heilman