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Crank Calling: Jason Schwartzman and Brittany Murphy play meth actors in 'Spun.'


'Spun' is cranked up but blanked out

By Richard von Busack

HEROIN has been so good for the movies--why not metham-phetamines? The second significant film about speed, Jonas Ackerlund's Spun, is no breakthrough; it's full of imagery seen in the previous speed movie, The Salton Sea. It's similarly midnight-movie fodder. The chattery camera, the cartoon wackiness, the nostril-cams of the corrosive drug sliding up an empty Bic pen barrel, the syringe-cam as the stuff slurps down into some polluted vein--it's clever but familiar material about the baroque horror of the addict's life. The film caricatures the users as filthy Technicolor maniacs. I've spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about the problem of speed. Spun was so overstated it made me feel like filing a brief in favor of those who use it. Some pretty bright people snort it up--bright, that is, except for being fanciers of an illegal and risky drug.

The title is supposedly slang for that sensation usually called "tweaked," the gross and guilty meth hangover, next to which a bad whiskey hangover is like a morning at a spa. College boy Jason Schwartzman plays Ross, who lives in a crappy ex-motel in the vilest part of the San Fernando Valley. It is his good luck to become chauffeur for a meth concocter, called the Cook and played by Mickey Rourke. Ross' per diem includes all the crank he can snort. The Cook's mistress, Nikki (Brittany Murphy), is in the process of being dumped. While this subplot thickens. Ross loiters at the sordid house of Spider Mike (John Leguizamo, the man who you'd most want to keep away from stimulants). Mena Suvari plays Mike's green-toothed girlfriend Cookie, a real dish--a Petri dish! Patrick Fugit, Cameron Crowe's alter ego in Almost Famous, plays the squealer to be, a pimple-covered video-game freak.

Ackerlund is another music-video director attempting to take that jittery style and stretch it out to feature length. And he runs up against the usual problem: what's compelling at three minutes is enervating at 96. Watching the rabbitty cutting, you feel restless, anxious to get up and stretch your legs a little. Go ahead--you won't miss anything. Spun, like the person under the influence of the drug, repeats itself.

A sharper soundtrack would have helped. Djali Zwan's title theme is decisively the wimpiest song about Satan ever recorded; ex-Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan supervised the rest of the soundtrack. Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero's script seems based on a few authentic incidents. It's said to be researched from the Eugene, Ore., drug scene. Still, the central problem is a gaggle of character actors and no lead. Murphy is convincing as the innocent yet hard-core girlfriend, but she doesn't have the kind of presence that pulls a viewer though an entire movie. Murphy is like Schwartzman, who plays it both ways--getting laughs about a tied-up stripper he's forgotten at his apartment and hallucinating fucking pigs. But then we're meant to weep over the so-sad moments of his dream girl softly walking away. Spun is too tweaked to have a point of view; it's technically superior but completely heartless.

Spun (Unrated; 96 min.), directed by Jonas Akerlund, written by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero, photographed by Eric Broms and starring Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy and Mickey Rourke, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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From the March 27-April 2, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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