Review

Trying to speed alongside the classic drug movies of the past decade or so ("Drugstore Cowboy," "Trainspotting," "Requiem for a Dream"), the methamphetamine-themed "Spun" is one hellacious bomb-blast of imagery and jagged storytelling as crazed characters on a sleepless binge furiously test one's ability to sympathize with self-destructive losers. With a grunge-ho cast that includes Mickey Rourke in his best role in years, "Spun" is laced with salty language, much nudity and bawdy animation that would necessitate trims if it gets distribution -- though forgoing an MPAA rating on a project that has less-than-universal appeal would preserve the performers and filmmakers' artfully constructed trip through black-comedy hell.

Rock video director Jonas Akerlund, in a promising feature debut, is attuned to the extremely short attention spans of the characters, and genre fans will be amply reminded of "Requiem," with repetitive montages centered on the act of ingesting the poison that drugs are for these desert rats. There's a reason why another nickname for the home-cooked stimulant is "crank," and "Spun" is virtuoso cinema that mercilessly holds a light up to wasted lives but also comes down off its high to make us care about these lost souls.

Centered on dropout Ross (Jason Schwartzman), the film opens with the "spun" (awake for days while snorting the powdered drug) lead trying to score crystal meth from ultraparanoid Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), whose zoned-out posse includes girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari), video game junkie Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) and stripper Nikki (Brittany Murphy). Ross is dating stripper April (Chloe Hunter), whom he visits after the wild opening sequences that introduce most of the characters.

The local supplier of the moment is the Cook (Rourke), a motel cowboy who makes crystal in his room. His main squeeze is Nikki, who flirts with Ross. The movie turns into a cracked odyssey as Ross (the only one with a car) becomes Cook's wheels. Among the rounds is a trip to the local convenience store, where two freaky Latino girls (Elisa Bocanegra and Julia Mendoza) help provide the running gag of their ratty nemesis (Nicholas Gonzalez) getting clocked by much more menacing customers. At one point, Ross sees his normal-world girlfriend (Charlotte Ayana), to whom he owes money, while his butch next-door neighbor (Deborah Harry) is suspicious of his activities.

In the first of the film's unexpected animated sequences, Ross goes to see April at work and fantasizes that he's sucked inside her and becomes a sperm cell. After they make love, he leaves her naked, tied up, gagged and blindfolded on his bed. Of all the ongoing gags and subplots of the screenplay by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero, as well as the constant motif of televisions showing pro wrestling mayhem, the cruelty of this behavior most dramatically underscores the serious message of the film: Don't do it.

The supporting players include Eric Roberts as Rourke's backer and Peter Stormare and Alexis Arquette as two meth-hooked cops who are trying to bust Spider Mike, with a TV show crew behind them. Of the principals, Schwartzman, Murphy and Rourke are completely engaging and play their characters believably. "Spun" is an impressive effort by all involved to give moviegoers more zap for their buck.


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