A Bad Trip

Comic look at an epic drug binge is a real downer

It’s very telling that the director of Spun, Jonas Akerlund, claims he finds true satisfaction as a filmmaker only during the editing stage. Akerlund, best known for directing the controversial Prodigy video for “Smack My Bitch Up” and Madonna’s “Ray of Light” clip, here dips into the same bag of visual tricks he uses for his music videos, but with much less success. The press notes for the film go so far as to boast that with a total of 4,500 individual edits, Spun might even qualify for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. But somebody needs to explain to Akerlund that no amount of split screens, jump cuts, psychedelic animation or sound effects can ever really disguise – much less make up for – a really lame script.

The story, as it were, follows Ross (Jason Schwartzman) a hopped-up meth junkie, who offers to chauffer The Cook (Mickey Rourke), a methamphetamine manufacturer, and his girlfriend Nikki (Brittany Murphy), around town in exchange for free drugs. Thus begins a hellish, three-day drug binge, during which Ross crosses paths with a dealer named Spider Mike (John Leguizamo) and his girlfriend, Cookie (Mena Suvari), fellow tweaker Frisbee (Patrick Fugit), a butch dyke neighbor (Deborah Harry), a gay drug kingpin (Eric Roberts), and a couple of crazed, meth-addicted cops (Peter Stormare and Alexis Arquette).

Nothing of much importance happens within the frenzied, episodic scenes that make up the film, which seem to exist only to showcase Akerlund’s penchant for cinematic eye candy. Although he borrows heavily from the look of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream, Akerlund never comes close to achieving the emotional intensity of that much better film.

Spun isn’t all bad, however. The performances are great across the board; an amazing feat, actually, considering the one-dimensional roles the performers were given to work with. And they truly are only the faintest sketches of characters; we never learn anything – important or otherwise – about any of them. Ross leaves his girlfriend handcuffed to his bed with duct tape over her eyes and mouth for three days, but this behavior isn’t explained, or even presented as a necessarily bad thing. Rourke clearly enjoys swaggering around in a white bomber jacket and acid-washed jeans, but we know nothing about The Cook (other than the fact that he has really bad style). Same goes for Murphy, who is actually quite appealing as enthusiastic speed freak Nikki. What’s her story? What makes her tick? Who knows.

It’s almost like a feature-length class project by a group of extremely gifted art and film students and featuring the drama department’s star performers. A lot of artistic energy went into the film, from the costumes by a Swedish wardrober with the appropriately creative moniker B, to the individually designed logos for each character name that appears in the opening credits. Too bad such talent was squandered on a script with no characters, no story, and no point of view.

Where Akerlund does succeed is in creating a vivid facsimile of the methamphetamine lifestyle. High-speed 16mm cameras and an assortment of lenses lend the film a bleached-out, toxic atmosphere that’s almost palpable. The frenetic camera and hyperactive editing make watching it feel almost like an actual drug trip. Far too soon, though, the movie runs out of things to say. And still, it keeps jabbering away, never knowing when to shut up, not unlike a real life speed junkie.

(Appeared in Gay City News)