ach time one of the speed freaks who scuttle around "Spun" like cockroaches on a hot stove snorts another line of crystal methedrine, the soundtrack erupts with a jolt and the camera zeroes in on an eyeball spinning like a pinwheel in a wind storm. When the person doing the snorting is Ross (Jason Schwartzman), a meth addict whose life has spiraled out of control, his fantasies spill across the screen in jerky cartoon images, many of them pornographic. That's one of the movie's rancid observations: speed and pornography (with bondage and anal sex the preferred modes) go together like bacon and eggs. (Or should I say rats and garbage?)
"Spun," which jumps around the shabby sun-baked flatlands of North Los Angeles Valley, from junk-strewn bungalow to seedy motel room to convenience store, is a swaggering journey into hell that conveys a chortling amusement at its own apocalyptic imagination. Eric Broms's cinematography bleaches most of the color out of its settings, leaving only acidic tints and grimy crevices. This is a world where beauty (or even the possibility of beauty) no longer exists.
As the camera lurches from one disaster area to the next, no particle of dirt, chip of crumbling plaster or crushed beer can is left unexamined amid the festering piles of junk in which its characters wallow oblivious to their own messes. When a constipated young woman goes to the bathroom, the camera dutifully trails along behind to observe her retching and eventually to peer down the flushing toilet. Whether it's that strung-out woman's rotten teeth or an extreme close-up of a syringe puncturing an arm, the camera is right there gaping.
The film, directed by Jonas Akerlund from a screenplay by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero, is an obvious homage to Darren Aronofsky's three-year-old druggie nightmare, "Requiem for a Dream." Mr. Akerlund comes from a music-video background, having directed Madonna's "Ray of Light," and the movie is a tour de force of grunge atmosphere and tricky editing in which the jolts and cartoon flashes are seamlessly woven into the narrative.
Like "Requiem for a Dream," "Spun," which opens today in Manhattan, blends an attitude of titillated revulsion with a hip gallows humor. Although there's nothing here as uproarious as the earlier movie's images of a heaving and belching refrigerator taunting a famished woman driven crazy by diet pills, "Spun" invites you to regard the spectacular squalor of its characters' lives with a smirking condescension.
The most frenetic of those characters, Spider Mike (John Leguizamo), is a jittery, paranoid speed freak who shoots crystal meth and imagines that every vehicle outside the shack he shares with his depraved girlfriend, Cookie (Mena Suvari), is a police car. Cookie is a shrill sex-crazed wreck of girl with brown teeth and red-rimmed eyes. Ms. Suvari's performance in a movie that explodes with profanity is a jarring turnabout from the lubricious teenage fantasy she embodied in "American Beauty" and (like many of the other performances in the movie) a small acting coup.
Frisbee (Patrick Fugit), the most pitiful member of the crew, is an inarticulate stumblebum with a face strewn with oozing pimples who lives with his 400-pound mother and is addicted to video games as well as speed. Arrested by two corrupt policemen (Peter Stormare and Alexis Arquette), he is coerced into wearing a wire while calling on Spider Mike.
The most ominous character, identified only as the Cook (Mickey Rourke), is the movie's master chef of chemical stimulation, and his combustible motel-room speed factory of bubbling caldrons, tubes and beakers suggests a Rube Goldberg contraption in a Frankenstein laboratory. The role is a comeback for Mr. Rourke, who growls and struts through the film in white cowboy boots and matching hat, fingering a gun. When he isn't working, the Cook, who is as sinister a macho caricature as the movies have produced in a while, obsesses out loud and obscenely about women with large breasts and small butts.
"Spun" doesn't have much of a story. Ross, a college dropout with mounting debts, becomes the chauffeur and errand boy for the Cook in exchange for free drugs. Ross, who has a taste for bondage, has been having a fling with a stripper, April (Chloe Hunter), whom he leaves bound and gagged in his motel room while he gallivants around with the Cook and his girlfriend, Nikki (Brittany Murphy), in his beat-up Volvo. One of his first assignments is to take Nikki and her beloved dog, which has turned green from inhaling crank fumes, to a pet hospital. After Nikki, a Las Vegas stripper, and the Cook have a falling out, Nikki and Ross fall into a haphazard romance.
Every now and then Ross tries to reach an old girlfriend in Los Angeles whom he owes money. The movie's final scene takes him to the city, where they meet while the Cook visits his connection, known as the Man (Eric Roberts doing a flamboyant gay caricature).
If "Spun" doesn't glamorize the world it surveys, its parade of reeling potty-mouthed clowns (especially Mr. Rourke's cowboy chemist) still exudes a kind of doomy charisma. Think of them as denizens of a demonic sideshow.
Directed by Jonas Akerlund; written by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero; director of photography, Eric Broms; music by Billy Corgan; production designer, Richard Lassalle; produced by Chris Hanley, Fernando Sulichin, Timothy Wayne Peternel and Danny Vinik; released by Newmarket Films. At Landmark's Sunshine Cinema, 139-143 East Houston Street, East Village. Running time: 96 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Jason Schwartzman (Ross), John Leguizamo (Spider Mike), Mena Suvari (Cookie), Patrick Fugit (Frisbee), Peter Stormare (Cop No. 1), Alexis Arquette (Cop No. 2), Brittany Murphy (Nikki), Mickey Rourke (the Cook), Chloe Hunter (April) and Eric Roberts (The Man).