The grime looks painted on in druggy 'Spun'

Times Staff Writer

Back in the 1980s, musician-hipsters like David Byrne and philosopher-hipsters like Jean Baudrillard just couldn't get enough of the coast-to-coast freak show called the United States. In movies like Byrne's "True Stories" and in books like Baudrillard's "America," nearly everyone seemed to live in trailers, eat lard sandwiches and weigh more than a circus elephant. Plenty of filmmakers -- Todd Solondz for one -- still embrace a vision of the country as a grotesque, although these days it seems to crop up most frequently in movies where the nightmare of drug addiction is part of the nightmare of the country at large.

In "Spun," the nightmare never ends for the pretty young Hollywood things like Mena Suvari and Brittany Murphy who play methamphetamine dress-up with pasted-on pimples and brushed-on bruises. As Cookie, the pin-eyed main squeeze of a dealer named Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), Suvari wears gunk smeared across her otherwise perfect-looking teeth, shuffles about in pajamas, yowls for sex and treats the audience to a sustained bathroom visit. The actress makes an honest effort to look at home in the art-directed squalor, sliding into the disorder as gamely as she did that bed of roses in "American Beauty," but her Cookie crumbles fast. Maybe it's the sight of Leguizamo running around dressed only in boots and a well-placed sock that does her in, or maybe it's just that she's seen this movie too many times before. She isn't the only one.

Directed by a Swedish music-video veteran named Jonas Akerlund from a script by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero, "Spun" covers three endless days and nights in the lives and near-deaths of a handful of addicts. Along with Murphy and Suvari, Jason Schwartzman and Patrick Fugit play the kids while Mickey Rourke and Peter Stormare play the grown-ups. If Rourke and Stormare weren't enough to clue you in to the film's strained wackiness, Eric Roberts shows up in the third act sporting a lisp and a wig and flanked by a pair of bodybuilders. The older actors let their freak flags fly more comfortably than do the youngsters, who, like the filmmakers, seem to have watched a number of movies about addiction, particularly those like "Trainspotting" and "Requiem for a Dream," in which everyone under 30 looks pretty terrific while sliding into the abyss.

Akerlund borrows heavily from these films for his drug-culture cues and stylistic bag of tricks, but his largest debt is to Harmony Korine's "Gummo," to which he owes his trash aesthetic and fascination with human misery. His film's mixture of sanctimony and sentimentality, on the other hand, seems lifted from classic exploitation films like "Reefer Madness" and Jack Webb's "Dragnet," in particular an episode from 1967 called "The Big High" in which a sneering couple of potheads cause the drowning death of their toddler. Akerlund's inability to sustain narrative tension, on the other hand, rests squarely on his shoulders. One thing I will say for him, however: I haven't enjoyed a Mickey Rourke performance this much since the actor appeared on David Letterman's show clutching a chihuahua.



MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Graphic drug use, nudity (mostly female), sadistic sex, adult language.

Jason Schwartzman...Ross

John Leguizamo...Spider Mike

Mena Suvari...Cookie

Patrick Fugit...Frisbee

Britanny Murphy...Nikki

Silver Nitrate presents in association with Amuse Pictures/Little Magic Films and Sagittaire Films, a Muse/Blacklist production, in association with Brink Films, Pettersson/Akerlund and Stone Canyon Entertainment, released by Newmarket Films. Director Jonas Akerlund. Writers Will De Los Santos, Creighton Vero. Producers Chris Hanley, Fernando Sulichin, Timothy Wayne Peternel, Danny Vinik. Director of photography Eric Broms. Music Billy Corgan. Production designer Richard Lassalle. Costume designer "B." Casting Renita Whited. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

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