Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spun (Brink Films, Muse, Blacklist, Newmarket, Columbia-Tri-Star, Sony, 2002)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran Charles Spun, an interesting 2002 youth movie that, whatever its intentions, comes off as a cautionary tale against the dangers of drugs in general and crystal methamphetamine in particular — indeed, were it not for the characters’ incessant swearing and the frequent shots of full frontal female nudity (oddly censored for the video version — there are a surprising number of scenes in which the women’s cunts are blurred out or have black masks in front of them, which turned out to be mandated by the Motion Pictures Rating Board in order to get the video release an “R” rating after the filmmakers had “returned” the rating for the theatrical version rather than have it saddled with “NC-17”), this would make a great audio-visual presentation for schoolchildren to convince them to “just say no.”

Spun takes place in a hermetically sealed world in which virtually all the characters are on crystal. The lead is Ross (Jason Schwartzman, who in 2002 still had a surprisingly teddy-bearish appearance that befitted the character he plays here, one whose crystal habit has deprived him of his youthful innocence way ahead of schedule), who shows up at the home of his dealer, Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), only to find that the dealer misplaced his latest stash somewhere on the route between his supplier, “The Cook” (Mickey Rourke, utterly marvelous in his seedy role), and his home. The film is basically a series of rides Ross is obliged to give the other characters, mainly since he seems to be the only one of them with a car — among the people he chauffeurs are “The Cook,” The Cook’s girlfriend Nikki (Brittany Murphy) and just about everyone else in the drug business in the anywhere/nowhere, U.S.A. town in which all this takes place (though the locations were in L.A.).

The script by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero also features Ross’s Lesbian phone-sex operator neighbor (Deborah Harry, considerably more heavy-set than she was in the Blondie days but still a striking screen presence), who rescues Ross’s girlfriend April (Chloe Hunter) when Ross leaves her tied to his bed for four days (he was called away from their S/M sex scene to do more errands for his druggie friends and he didn’t think it was important to untie her before he left — I can imagine what my friends who actually do S/M would have to say about that! — and who, not surprisingly, ends up taking her Lesbian rescuer’s offer to become her girlfriend and forsake men), the guy who runs the porn video store at which the Cook rents tapes (though this film is set in 2002, no one has a cell phone or watches DVD’s) (played by Rob Halford, the guy famously thrown out of Judas Priest for being Gay — so Deborah Harry wasn’t the only ex-rock star in this cast!), Spider’s friend Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) who’s hooked on both crystal and video games, two cops who are undercover to bust the crystal ring even though they’re on the stuff themselves and who get Frisbee to rat him out by busting both him and his spectacularly overweight mother, and Nikki’s dog, whom she’s obliged to take to the vet and whom she’s painted green (I’m not making this up, you know!).

Director Jonas Åkerlund gives this story the kind of no-holds-barred Repo Man out of Blue Sunshine direction it needs to work, and the movie builds to a climax — the fact that De Los Santos and Vero were able to construct a script that seems disjointed as all get-out but still has a recognizable beginning, middle and end and brings all the story arcs to plausible, if not necessarily satisfying, resolutions. Åkerlund also does an interesting “jolting” effect whenever any of the characters are shown actually taking crystal — we get closeups of their eyeballs and “snapping” camera movements that attempt to communicate to us the thrill of using this stuff (and one commentator who’s a recovering crystal addict said that effect brought back memories of his own sensations while using). While I think the more recent Brick is an even better modern-day drug movie, Spun is quite effective and well worth seeing — and I don’t think it would actually encourage anyone to use. Quite the contrary; when Ross finally meets up with his ex-girlfriend Amy (Charlotte Ayanna), who previously fled the drug scene (with Ross owing her over $400), moved and got a straight job, the sigh of relief that we’re finally meeting someone in this claustrophobic movie who isn’t on drugs is palpable.