Crank it up 

Spun is an unrelenting sleazefest

Spun is an "edgy" film that can't quite decide if methamphetamine addiction is pathetic and squalid or the coolest thing going -- a non-stop eyeball party of anime porn in a world painted in the broad strokes of a Harry Crews novel as interpreted by Oliver Stone.

As cranked-up as its subject matter, Spun follows a small group of tweakers as they brew, sell and consume meth over the course of three days and nights. The film is a hateful vision of America viewed through a distorting kaleidoscope where porn-addicted Florida cowboy The Cook (Mickey Rourke, in a memorable performance) brews new batches of meth in his motel room. Meanwhile, his Bambi-sweet girlfriend Nikki (Brittany Murphy) clutches a stuffed bunny and describes impossible fantasies of a reunion with her state-appropriated baby.

Spun is told from the vantage of shaggy-cool Ross (Jason Schwartzman), a suburban, Volvo-driving guy who's taken a wrong turn (unlike the hateful proles who were apparently just born into this life). In addition to his meth addiction, Ross is now also a pathetic errand boy for The Cook. Over the course of the film, Ross chauffeurs Nikki to her stripper job and to hang with her addict friends Spider Mike (John Leguizamo) and Cookie (Mena Suvari, who, sadly, plays her most dramatic scene on the toilet). He also chauffeurs Cook to his drug-and porn-buying rendezvous.

Ross' Volvo has taken a beating and his morals have slipped a little, too. Instead of being satisfied with the current duuuuuude version of a goddess -- a blonde stripper -- he has to also handcuff her to his motel bed and, in a way George Bush was probably not thinking, duct tape her mouth and eyes. Sort of like a date kept on ice.

Testament to Spun's fuzzy moral code, Ross is the character we're meant to identify with amidst the "scumbags," principally because he pines for a beautiful girlfriend and a relationship his addiction ruined.

Director Jonas Akerlund started in music videos, but his visuals are overstated and exhausting beyond the MTV parameter of two minutes. Excellence in capturing the ADD Frito-Layed brain does not necessarily translate to an ability to hold a non-channel surfing audience's interest once the visual fireworks shoot their wad in the film's first half-hour. And in five years time, the kitschy "Ray of Light" treatment he gives meth addiction is going to look like the high camp freak-outs of vintage '60s LSD films.

Akerlund struggles mightily to make humankind a freak show, where everything but a distorting fisheye lens is employed to render its human beings as cartoon nightmares, from the Bible-thumping, syrup-voiced chubby who works the truck stop cash register to the nearly deformed slice of Americana on view at the local veterinarian office.

Because Akerlund struggles to make his characters so thoroughly grotesque and unsympathetic, it comes as a disorienting about-face when fairly late into the film he takes a sudden mercy on his vile souls. The last ditch insertion of humanity into an unrelenting sleazefest is like tossing a bone to the dog you've just kicked to the ground.

The last-minute spasm of social conscience is particularly repellant after Akerlund has essentially reduced poverty and addiction to a fashion moment featuring ironically sported white leather fringe and distressed beach-town T-shirts. Even the strip club where Nikki works looks like some Larry Clark-cum-Calvin Klein fashion fantasy of glitter tops, low ceilings and wood paneling.

And Akerlund has some nerve directing his "scathing" social commentary at this white trash, pro-wrestling, cheese doodle-eatin' milieu, since his film is the cinematic equivalent of junk food. In an age when nearly everything has been seen onscreen, Spun is more depressing than shocking. Harmony Korine's Gummo treated a similar amoral, the kids-ain't-all-right landscape, but the difference is the sympathy Korine brought to his wasted world and its lost characters. Akerlund is the MTV retread, the sleazy marketeer's attempt to cash in on the kind of amorality he thinks the kiddies will like and a smirking, trendy approach to human misery.



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