Jonas Åkerlund’s frenetic “Spun” isn’t so much a movie as a series of disconnected scenes that deliver a Blitzkrieg-style assault on the senses. How fitting, since crystal meth is hardly a subtle drug. It bludgeons reality and lets illusion, paranoia and delusion run amock. Åkerlund knows this, and soon he’s made flag-waving believers of us, too.
How does he do it? Well, he creates a what must be called the quintessential meth experience and peoples it with characters who have lost interest in anything but meth — snorting it, shooting it, looking for more so they can snort or shoot it. At the heart of “Spun” is dealer/hard-core tweaker Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), who shares an apartment with his girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). Meth, it becomes clear, is the only thing they have in common. Also in the mix is Ross (Jason Schwartzman), Spider Mike’s best customer, who might look like the nice, average guy at the Y if he wasn’t all twitchy and squirmy from crank withdrawals. Mike, Cookie and Ross owe their habit to The Cook (the unassailably cool Mickey Rourke), meth cooker extraordinaire who feeds his whiny girlfriend Nikki (a frighteningly gaunt Brittany Murphy) meth to keep her out of his way while he diddles strippers.
Åkerlund directs all these stories with a kind of intense, hyperactive energy that makes “Spun” feel as, well, twitchy as its characters. There are lightning-quick cuts, rapid camera work and jittery scenes (including one involving more of Mena Suvari’s bathroom habits than anyone — even her most devoted fans — wanted to know) that give us the feel of a meth binge. There’s an undercurrent of comedy, particularly involving The Cook’s perpetual condescension for Nikki and Spider Mike and Cookie’s constant feuding. But the humor is edged with a desperation that’s just plain scary. Nowhere is that more evident than a scene where Ross leaves a kindly hooker (why are they always kindly in movies?) tethered to his bed to go on a meth run … and doesn’t come back for days. Schwartzman plays this for comedy, but his utter lack of concern for anyone or anything other than meth, his disconnect from reality, is bone-chilling.
In fact, it’s Ross who hits us the hardest. Leguizamo is comical with his monkey-like energy; Suvari’s barely concealed hatred for her boyfriend/dealer draws a few laughs; Rourke’s air of complete calm and disdain toward Nikki is marvelous. These characters are a little left of center, a little funny, sure, but they’re hardly the meat of the story (and despite all the MTV-esque camera stylings and jerky humor, there is meat). Schwartzman makes us feel every bruise and scrape Ross got on his way to the bottom. We hear messages go unanswered on his machine, and we intuit how he’s ignored and abused and neglected a laundry list of people, including his ex-girlfriend Amy (Charlotte Ayanna). By the time he connects with Nikki and becomes a driver for The Cook, he’s a goner, too much in love with meth to notice or vaguely care about anyone else who isn’t. Murphy does commendable work in making Nikki a sympathetic character, an ordinary person who escaped her ordinary problems through drugs. She could be anyone. Ross could be anyone. Under the right set of bad circumstances, they could be us.
That’s not to say that “Spun” can be called a deep or meaningful film, or even a film in the strictest sense of the term. It’s more of a kinetic, hyper-stylized, arty but not entirely unfeeling snapshot of how drugs change people, and not for the better. What truth could be more simple, and more powerful, than that?