Hot clothes, hot music, hot stars (John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, Brittany Murphy) -- but this tale of Southern California speed freaks works too hard for its high.

Topics: Brittany Murphy, Movies,


I hate “Spun.” And one of the things that I hate about it is that I liked it so much. It looks horribly great, it has cool stars, and the vaguely indie-rock soundtrack is pretty good. The dizzying sensation of the movie is something like watching an hour and a half’s worth of music videos on fast forward. It’s a fun movie in a disorienting way, especially if you like hot clothes and can laugh at awful things.

But it’s really a low, low movie, the kind of thing that makes you feel bad for liking it. It’s moralistic about drug use, but at the same time weirdly glamorizes it by working so hard to make the movie itself so hip. (This is the kind of picture where even the buffoonish cops wear vintage Levi Sta-Prest jeans.) “Spun’s” meta-message — if there is such a thing — is that drugs are bad, but you probably want to do a lot of them for a while so you can make some cool art or something. In fact, just say “crystal” and the dopest actors in Hollywood will run toward you.

“Spun” is about speed — methamphetamine. The plot is fairly thin, happening over three days in one of those washed-out places in Southern California. Ross (Jason Schwartzman from “Rushmore,” who will always be from “Rushmore”) meets the Cook (Mickey Rourke, who apparently will never be Mickey Rourke again) through stripper Nikki (Brittany Murphy). In return for little bags of speed, Ross runs errands — picking up ephedrine, buying porn — and chauffeurs the Cook, who is mad-sciencing a new batch of meth out of a sweaty motel room.

There’s also Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), a low-level dealer, and his girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). They live and deal out of a trashed ranch house where kids like Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) come over to buy drugs, get high, and play video games. (Which are — sound the hip alarm — homemade and totally retro; you’ll probably see a feature on them in Vice magazine next month.)

The story, inasmuch as there is one, wonders whether Ross will get back together with his girlfriend, who has left him and moved to Los Angeles, and whether Nikki will leave the Cook. There’s also a subplot involving two bumbling cops who are speed freaks themselves (like everyone else in the film), and a recurring bit involving a stripper whom Ross fucks — yes, fucks — until he hallucinates dirty cartoons (the hip alarm is still ringing, right? Look for the cartoonist in a Japanese fashion magazine) and ties naked to his bed before leaving the apartment.

All this is to say that “Spun” is one of those episodic pictures. It apparently derives from the exploits of one of its co-writers, Will De Los Santos, a speed freak from Eugene, Ore. (The beginning of the film, which is co-written by Creighton Vero, announces “based on the truth … and lies.”) And it is real life in the sense that it’s more of a vibe or a grind or something than a movie. The whole thing is stitched together with coherent production design and masterful editing.

In a way, “Spun” is editing. Its filmmaker, the Swedish music video and commercial director Jonas Akerlund, is known principally for Prodigy’s jittery “Smack My Bitch Up” and Madonna’s stop-start “Ray of Light.” According to the film’s production notes, the debut feature project started off with a 1,000-page storyboard comic book, every single shot of which was captured on high-speed 16-mm film once production started. The finished product includes 4,500 edits, or almost a cut every second.

And there certainly is some nice technique. One trick makes every object appear to us as the sum of its component parts. So when Schwartzman gets in his crappy-ass brown Volvo, we see the wheels turning, the pistons pumping, the fan belt whirring. The technique communicates that speedy sense of everythingallatonce. It’s a style that bites “Requiem for a Dream” — in particular the little impressionistic bits that recurred every time the characters shot up — and makes no particular improvement.

As there was in “Requiem for a Dream” — a vastly superior film — a fairly conventional morality is at work in “Spun.” Drug dealers get busted, rats get shot, and guys who fuck with women get beaten down. No bad deed goes unpunished. And in one sense, with all the brown teeth, groaning constipation, and Leguizamo jerking off in a sock, there’s nothing sexy about the loser pageant. In all its bleached-out shots and hyper-quick editing, “Spun” is an anti-drug film.

Sort of. Because these guys still get to wear Diesel and look like John Leguizamo in a pair of low-rider leather pants. Or be a bad-ass cowboy like Mickey Rourke (playing his best role in years), and fuck Brittany Murphy. (Yes, fuck. In one of the film’s most hilarious scenes Rourke delivers a “Patton”-like tribute to pussy, with an American flag waving in the background.)

The biggest problem with “Spun” is that it’s really just about speed (and editing). And speed, like most other drugs, is in and of itself boring. (Have you ever had one of those three-hour conversations about pot? Stoned? It feels like time dying.) Further, the young-and-beautiful drug movie is finished — at least until someone makes a genre tribute in 20 years. I can’t imagine a picture saying anything that hasn’t already been said better by “Drugstore Cowboy,” the abject “Kids” and even “Trainspotting.”

At this point, the only interesting drug movies are the ones that start with drugs and work outward, like, again, “Requiem” (about addiction and the death of the American dream), or “Jesus’ Son” (about redemption and Billy Crudup). (It’s worth noting that both evolved from novels.)

“Spun” is ultimately a nasty movie. It’s the kind of film that mocks overweight people who work at gas stations and makes parody out of people who live in trailers. It tries desperately for its edge, achieving it occasionally (maybe with former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford working the counter at the porn store), but never really gets past the same kind of one-dimensional jokes about speed freaks that Jay Leno makes in “Tonight Show” monologues. I laughed, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>