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'Spin Me Round' spins its wheels when it comes to figuring out the film's direction

Alessandro Nivola stars as Nick, the owner of a restaurant chain that manager Amber (Alison Brie) meets in Italy in the film 'Spin Me Round'.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Alessandro Nivola stars as Nick, the owner of a restaurant chain that manager Amber (Alison Brie) meets in Italy in the film 'Spin Me Round'.

The new movie Spin Me Round tells a story about a young restaurant manager sent to Italy by her company, only to find something other than food education. For KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz, the picture lies somewhere between comedy and horror, but not even the filmmakers seem to know.

Because of supply problems and other shortages, it may be hard to get auto parts or cat food, but there's no shortage of movies about young people, often Americans, who travel to the south of France or to Tuscany to find food and culture, and love — but ultimately they find themselves in either profound or trivial ways. From the high end Call Me By Your Name to a slew of lesser pictures about dissatisfied chefs, aimless tourists, and other characters fleeing humdrum lives. The OK films are nice travelogues; the not-OK ones can make you cringe.

Spin Me Round veers in its own variant. Amber (Alison Brie) has a food world job, but she's no fancy chef. She manages a chain restaurant in Bakersfield, California, called Tuscan Grove, where the alfredo sauce comes in big squeezable plastic bottles from a corporate supplier and her job demands that she follow corporate procedure, with not a smidgeon of imagination. But for some reason, this dreary company has a place in Tuscany where it sends what are called "exemplary managers," presumably to inspire them with things like the authenticity of cooking, which the corporation of course avoids.

From the look on Amber's face, she's expecting some inspiration, but the audience knows right off that's not going to happen. One clue is that the van from the airport glides right by the promised villa and deposits Amber in a motel that's the equal of the food they assemble. Craig, the group leader, reads his inspiring welcome in a mechanical voice from note cards in his hand, and when the cooking teacher mentions the herb marjoram, the exemplary managers think he's talking about margarine.

And then, the slick owner of the company pops in, comes on to Amber in the middle of class, invites her to his yacht, and mild-mannered Amber comes aboard.

Is Amber stupid or is she crafty — you'll never know, and apparently the filmmakers don't know either. The movie goes wrong at every opportunity.

Probably because Molly Shannon from Saturday Night Live is in it, Spin Me Round reminds me of the last two minutes of the hundreds of SNL sketches that lose direction and run too long. Eventually, the whole business of this movie turns from bland maybe-comedy into semi-comic horror, but it's a fitful transition. For a long time, the movie's just unclear. You can't tell if characters are frightened or if they're naive and out of touch. But then come blood, death, semi-comic sex and wild boars running across the landscape, so maybe it’s a horror film, comic style.

What the makers of Spin Me Round don't get is that suspense does not arise from events that are simply arbitrary or quirky. Alfred Hitchcock, who knew what he was doing, said suspense comes from the audience knowing what the characters do not know, and then worrying about what the characters will do when they find out. Viewers know what's up in Hitchcock's Vertigo before James Stewart's character does, and there's plenty of anxiety in watching Stewart stumble his way to the truth. In Spin Me Round, nobody — not viewers nor characters — have a clue, so you get a mishmash of unconnected stuff.

You could argue that the picture is a spoof, that canny young audiences will find clever the riffs on characters stuck in blandness, mind-numbing work and a world of random events. I think that's arrogant, and I think the movie radiates contempt for characters who aren't privileged or rich or hip. It's the kind of movie people might laugh at because they don't know what else to do.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.