`Spun' is too fast for its own good

April 04, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Spun wants to be The Lost Weekend of drug movies, but for movie-lovers it will merely mark a frittered-away afternoon or evening. It follows a speed freak named Ross (Jason Schwartzman) through three rancid Southern California days when he provides wheels for a methamphetamine chef known as, naturally, the Cook (Mickey Rourke) - a bad ol' boy who's the most potent figure in a grotty extended group of crank addicts. The gang includes the Cook's girlfriend, Nikki (Brittany Murphy), her gal pal Cookie (Mena Suvari), Cookie's manic dealer-lover, Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), and a pimply teen-ager named Frisbee (Patrick Fugit).

Writers Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero deliver a patchwork of shocks and gross-outs - Frisbee, for example, lives with a 400-pound mother who sits around semi-exposed.

Yet what's more annoying than the screenplay's relentless assaultiveness is its odd, sordid cuteness. Like a limp underground comic book, the movie connects seemingly random cruelties inside jokey patterns laced with lust and doom. This effort to be witty and sardonic both fails to rouse snickers and flattens characters to sick-joke status.

Add the hyperactivity of the director, Jonas Akerlund, a veteran of music videos, and the result is a nightmare carnival ride. It starts out accelerated and stays there, but never leaves its limited axis and offers the rider no surprise or relief.

Akerlund adopts, and employs without pause, the hip-hopping camera placement and hyperbolic sound-and-image cutting that Darren Aronofsky used in the drug scenes for his Requiem for a Dream. If only this were the final requiem for that Requiem, and not a homage to it; Aronofsky's work in that picture sums up the irritating look-at-me filmmaking addictive to young moviemakers.

Only Rourke, oozing sordid authority, crashes through the limits of Akerlund's tight frames. Most of the cast might as well be Claymation figurines. Why would so many performers on the rise be attracted to this farcical downer? The industry joke about playing drunks or prostitutes used to be that actors portray lowlifes to win Oscars. These days they must also do it to win Independent Spirit Awards.

Spun

Starring Jason Schwartzman, Mickey Rourke, John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, Patrick Fugit and Brittany Murphy

Directed by Jonas Akerlund

Released by Newmarket

Unrated

Time: 101 minutes

Sun score *

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