March 14th, 2003
Despite several fine performances highlighted by the incredible Jason Schwartzman and a return to form of Mickey Rourke, the anti-drug movie “Spun” never hits whatever marks it was aiming for. Music video director Jonas Åkerlund’s feature debut is far too stylized and self-conscious for its own good, failing to realize the flash and dazzle he can get away with in a four-minute format tends to cause visual overload when extended to ninety-six minutes, disconnecting the intended audience from the importance of what he was trying to say in the first place. Jonas Åkerlund also fails to realize there isn’t much of a market for yet another slicked out drug movie where not a single character has come through this journey better off than they were when they started. Look for a short playoff for the unrated feature during its theatrical run, with the eventual cult following to show up upon its video release.
”Spun,” according to reports, is the somewhat fictionalized and compacted account of co-screenwriter Will De Los Santos’s life as a meth addict in Eugene, Oregon, “working” as a driver for a drug maker known simply as “The Cook” in exchange for free speed. While it is nice to see Mr. De Los Santos eventually cleaned himself up, the screen story he concocted with Creighton Vero is so absurdly over-the-top in its actions that any potential anti-drug message he might have been trying to convey is lost amongst the visual alchemy.
As the movie opens, Ross (Schwartzman) has driven himself down to the trashy home of his dealer, the heavily tattooed Spider Mike (John Legiuzamo), in order to score some meth. With the help of his girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari), Cookie’s stripper friend Nikki (Brittany Murphy) and the hygienically challenged Frisbee (Patrick Fugit), Spider Mike is trying to remember where he put the drugs. Tired of waiting for Mike and at promise of free drugs should he agree to take her home, Ross drives Nikki back to the motel room she shares with The Cook (Mickey Rourke), the local maker of Ross’s drug of choice. Seduced by the potential of a never ending supply of crank in exchange for some driving duties, Ross becomes chauffer to Nikki and The Cook, beginning a three day adventure that will find the lives of every character changed, but not for the better.
Along for the ride are Frisbee’s four hundred pound mother, two drug addicted police officers (Peter Stormare and Alexis Arquette) who have television camera following them around on their busts for a hit reality show, a stripper who Ross accidentally leaves handcuffed to his bed for the three days after a wild evening of drug-fueled sex, Ross’s very nosy and very butch neighbor (Deborah Harry), The Cook’s effeminate bankroll (Eric Roberts) and a number of known artists from the world of film, television and music making cameo appearances, including porn star Ron Jeremy, bad boy artiste and filmmaker Tony Kaye, former Judas Priest front man Rob Halford, Larry Drake of “L.A. Law” and “Darkman” fame, and Billy Corgan, who also composed the film’s score and contributed several songs to the soundtrack with his new band, Zwan.
The main problem with the film is that it lacks a natural focus. While Ross is the film’s stand-in for the writer of the piece, to whom all these things supposedly happened to, there simply are too many sections of the film that we spend away from him. One extended sequence finds Frisbee, who has just been busted by the TV cops in his trailer home while watching the show he was about to be busted on, forced to wear a wire and make a purchase with Spider Mike. Inside the house, Cookie is constipated in the bathroom trying to squeeze out a floater (for lack of a nicer or more eloquent term) while Mike is in the bedroom, pleasuring himself while having phone sex. Frisbee gets into the house, where Mike, wearing only a sock around his private parts, discovers the wire and proceeds to relieve Frisbee of one of his testicles via handgun. To use as an example, there are a number of problems in this single scene alone that are endemic to the problems of the film as a whole. Of all the characters involved here, only Spider Mike even had a reason to exist outside of the opening sequence. Truth be told, Cookie, Frisbee and the TV cops all could have been completely removed from the story and nothing would have been lost. Cookie only exists for the one scene of comic relief of watching her try to poop, and Frisbee is only there so everyone else can laugh whenever the mention of his getting a nut blown off comes up and say “Oh, that must have hurt.”
The only truly necessary characters in the entire film are Ross, The Cook and possibly Nikki and Spider Mike. This is Ross’s story, and should have always been focused on him. The Cook is needed because he’s the man with the stash. Nikki is somewhat needed to be the person Ross drives around, and Mike the dealer to whom Ross delivers the drugs. All the remaining characters steal time from what should have been the important part, which is to show the depths to which one drug addicts will fall to keep his supply coming, followed by even a mere glimpse that he can turn it around someday. Instead, the movie ends with Ross asleep in his car after coming down from a five day high, with no job, no apartment, no money and no more drugs. I might have been more depressed for Ross had I lost complete interest in the film when the film reached the second reel and we were still waiting for the introduction of The Cook.
The movie works as little as it does because of Schwartzman and Rourke. The few moments these two get to share have a natural energy to them, the majority of their scenes together are unencumbered with the visual tricks of distorting lenses, staccato editing, animated sequences and other attempts to keep those with short attention spans in the film. Åkerlund will get other chances to make movies, and one can only hope he takes a lesson from those like David Fincher who came before him, from MTV to the AMC, who understand entire scenes can happen without a single Dutch angle, jump cut or other camera or editing trick.
Shot on the cheap throughout Los Angeles (standing in for Oregon, believe it or not) in seventeen days on 16mm film stock, “Spun” shouldn’t damage anyone’s career. But viewer, beware. Make certain you take some extra strength pain medication with you to the theatre if you absolutely see this film. Åkerlund knows his is a “Cool Director” and isn’t going to let you forget. But I’ll always prefer substance over style, so I must give “Spun” a C for effort and a D for execution.
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Producers: Chris Hanley, Timothy Wayne Peternel, Fernando Sulichin, Danny Vinik
Screenwriters: Will De Los Santos, Creighton Vero
Cinematography: Eric Broms
Editors: Jonas Åkerlund, Johan Söderberg
American Distributor: Newmarket Films
Running Time: 96 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Sound Format: Dolby Digital
My rating: D