While some drug films are played for drama, Spun is presented in the difficult to master black comedy genre

One thing that movies have always been able to supply to the audience is the ability to go places and see things they never would in real life. The vicarious thrill of living a life that normal social acceptance forbids. This is one reason for the popularity of crime dramas, spy thrillers and of course drug ‘culture’ flicks. This is a major contributing to the success of ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘The Trip’ and ‘Trainspotting’. The latest submission to this genre is ‘ Spun ’ by director Jonas Akerlund. While some drug films are played for drama Spun is presented in the difficult to master black comedy genre. Even with less controversial topics the black comedy must tread the fine line between humor and dark, foreboding subject matter. So as you look at Spun remember that the degree of difficulty rating is set very high, unfortunately, the film just misses the bar.

Spun covers roughly a three day drug binge. Unlike Requiem there is no contrast between the users of so called legal versus illegal drugs, Spun concentrates on the out of control world of crystal methamphetamine. Mickey Rourke is The Cook, a drug addict with the know how to turn large quantities of prescription medication into street drugs. These are then sold by Spider Mike (John Leguizamo). The inherent problem with this system is the market demographic for Spider Mike’s product rarely can hold a job long enough to pay for the product they so desperately need. Of course this leads to violence and many threats of mayhem. The world depicted here is a self contained one, devoid of any connection to the real world. The end less cycle of chasing their high is all that motivates these wretched characters. For a young woman there is an alternative to payment for the drugs, become the girlfriend of someone on the supply side of this dark economy. This is the case for Nikki (Brittany Murphy who hooks up with The Cook and Cookie (Mena Suvari) who is with Spider Mike. For them there are no thoughts of glamour, in fact there is almost no concern for any aspect of personal hygiene. We meet people like Ross (Jason Schwartzman) an average guy whose life is slowing disintegrating due to his dependence on these drugs. He is so concerned with his next dose of drugs he forgets that his stripper girlfriend is tied to their bed. This is your brain on drugs. The characters interact as highly overactive and compulsive automatons; their worlds have collapsed into getting high, crashing down and searching for more drugs. There are no ancillary motivations here, just the black hole of dependency that drives the characters.

The cast is excellent although most are best known for genres far a field from this. Rourke is the only cast member that really seems to belong in this dark world. He has an impressive screen presence that draws the viewer to him while at the same time repulses them. Leguizamo is a man of incredible talent. The range of roles he is capable of taking on is broader than most of his peers. From the demonic clown in Spawn to the animated Toulouse Lautrec in Moulin Rouge to the hapless husband in Summer of Sam this actor is a gem to watch. Here he shines as Spider Mike. He stands alone here with a performance that truly has some depth. Murphy has made a career of playing, well there is no other way to say it, air heads. While normally these roles present an innocence here her characterization of Nikki is a bit too one dimensional. She should really stick to the more physical comedy in romantic works rather than attempt such a dark role. Suvari appears to have been trying to get in on the age old tradition of critical acceptance afford to beautiful actresses that don unglamorous looks. She is unkempt and borders on repulsive here. Stringy hair and teeth that are unfamiliar with a tooth brush may show that a crystal meth addict is not concerned with the most basic aspects of hygiene but Suvari’s commitment to the physical aspects of the role overwhelmed her innate acting ability. Schwartzman does a good job of showing how the problems of drug abuse can destroy anyone’s life. He handles the role well and provides the one point in the film that the typical member of the audience can identify with.

Jonas Akerlund started out by directing commercials and music videos. He has worked with such people as Madonna and Toby but this is first time behind the camera directing such talent. His technique is overly influenced by Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Requiem for a Dream’. He utilizes much the same camera tricks of playing with the speed and focus to depict life on this drug. His decision to play Spun as a dark comedy rather than a drama was perhaps a mistake. While it is an interesting concept he maybe should have served the subject matter better with a few more films under his belt. Don’t get me wrong, he has talent but for what is basically a freshman effort it was a high standard to set. His use of lighting, shadow and framing shows incredible promise if he can get away from the music video mind set. The pacing of Spun is too fast but that does work considering the topic and situations. He shows life on this drug as out of control but in order to make that work more control of the technical aspects of the movie is required. At times the drug effects are a bit tiresome. The use of animation, matted shots, Dutch angles rapid pans can get on your nerves.

The Spun DVD is available in both rated and unrated versions. There are not many extras presented, a few deleted scenes where it is fairly obvious why they were not included and two commentary tracks that lean towards the technical aspects of Spun. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video transfer is not the best around. It is gritty and exhibits a fair amount of grain. In all fairness this may be intentional considering the life being presented here. Most of the surround aspects of the 5.1 audio are relegated to the musical score by Smashing Pumpkin’s front man Billy Corgan and the many drug taking scenes. The audio stage is overdone with every dose of drugs taken. Several times my amplifier displayed ‘overload’. This is not a late night flick if you care about what your neighbors think. While not for everyone this film will appeal to those into more experimental movies. Black comedy does not work well with such a cautionary tale but Spun does have some merits. While this film obviously emulates ‘Requiem for a Dream’ it does not quite measure up to it.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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