Requiem thrill ride

Tasting the darker joys of the methamphetamine highway.

Apr 30, 2003 at 12:00 am

Spunis a cranked-up cinematic carousel ride. Think Trainspotting, but substitute Southern California’s baked wasteland for less-than-bonny Scotland, methamphetamine (known as “crank,” a pedal-to-the-metal form of speed) for heroin, and open its expressionistic drug hallucinations to a cinematic full throttle that breaks them on through to another side of motion pictures. You wind up with a realm of X-rated and accelerated animation that buzzes just above the subliminal.

Ross (Jason Schwartzman) looks like a gone-to-seed varsity athlete. When he cranks up his rusty old Volvo, the grimy fan and engine pulleys spin under the hood and the worn tires roll on pitted wheels. Is this a parody of the overdriven auto-erotica of The Fast and the Furious? Perhaps.

Jonas Åkerlund (the Swedish director whose music video for Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” was banned by MTV) runs Spun, his first feature film, on a sense of humor as dark as the meth-stained teeth of Cookie (Mena Suvari), the grungy baby doll of manic crank dealer Spider Mike (John Leguizamo). There’s a subtle irony (almost a Swedish inside joke) in a wild-eyed crankhead chasing his high in a Volvo, the virtual icon of Sweden’s bourgeois safety. Åkerlund atomizes the scene into a blizzard of edits (the film’s 5,435 total cuts put it into The Guinness Book of World Records) that strap us into Ross’ crank-starved brain — and recall the drug-taking montages of Requiem for a Dream revved up to the visual redline.

Requiem’s tragic characters, tied together by drug addiction and love, structured it into a modern, anti-drug morality play so potent it could make you “just say no” to aspirin. But Spun is a moral-free and mostly pure dark comedy. Where Requiem’s addicts affect our pathos, Spun’s provoke our laugh-out-loud ridicule.

To the credit of first-time screenwriters Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero, Åkerlund and most of his cast, Spun’s dysfunctional fools and stooges — Eric Roberts’ The Man could be the bastard love child of Elvis and Liberace raised by Mae West — mostly suspend disbelief. It seems it’s the drugs that make them into caricatures. They manage a tottering balance between our sympathy and indifference that allows us to snatch a Pulp Fiction kind of comedy from the slack jaws of their tragedies. But unlike the last methamphetamine-fueled flick, The Salton Sea, Spun isn’t another Pulp Fiction derivation by way of quirky dialogue spoken by quirkier mouthpieces. Ross and company keep it relatively real.

One of the active ingredients of that reality is the idea that morality and true love may be two of the most common casualties of addiction. Spun blends its dark humor with a comedy of romantic errors. Even while Ross unwittingly holds a naked, cranked-up stripper as an S&M hostage, handcuffed to the bed of his trashed motel room, he obsessively loads his ex-girlfriend Amy’s (Charlotte Ayanna) answering machine with messages. Åkerlund introduces Amy to us in the flesh as a classical Venus of Los Angeles and though we soon realize that Ross’ obsession with her is as futile as it is pathetic, it becomes understandable. Ross just doesn’t understand that the love he swears seems to be mostly another addiction.

Love doesn’t have much to do with Spun’s other couples: Spider Mike and Cookie, and outlaw pharmacist The Cook (Mickey Rourke) and Nikki (Brittany Murphy), a topless dancer whose fashion clock must have stopped in the ’80s. The rush of sex may be the next best thing to the blastoff of a bump of crank and, since addicts feel more comfortable when they have a stash handy, they keep each other around. Even so, they can’t get no sexual satisfaction.

Yet Spun mostly satisfies — barring its crude and miscast “Cops” parody that drops a silly monkey wrench into Åkerlund’s otherwise efficient cinematic machine.

In the end, Spun’s cranked-up merry-go-round slows down to let us off as the last stage of our motley crew’s pharmaceutically fueled rocket ride burns out and leaves them slumbering, strung out and bound for damnation — or the ironic redemption of Vegas.

So enjoy the ride. And don’t exit until your whirling senses come to a complete stop.


Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].