Producers: Mel Eslyn, Jeff Baena, Alison Brie, Dylan Sellers and Chris Parker Director: Jeff Baena Screenplay: Jeff Baena, Alison Brie Cast: Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Ayden Mayeri, Ben Sinclair, Tim Heidecker, Debby Ryan, Fred Armisen, Ego Nwodim, Lauren Weedman, Lil Rel Howery, Jake Picking and Tricia Helfer Distributor: IFC Films
It’s fine when a film tries to be different, but sometimes the attempt goes haywire. Such is the case with “Spin Me Round,” an offbeat comedy that tries to juggle so many genres and tones that eventually the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
It begins as a weak workplace comedy, with Amber (Alison Brie) the capable manager of a Bakersfield franchise of a mass-market Italian restaurant called Tuscan Grove, a chain popularized by family-friendly commercials starring its CEO Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola), though from what we see of the kitchen, the food is all pre-processed and probably tasteless.
Amber’s surprised when her boss (Lil Rel Howery) announces that he’d entered her for a program in which franchise managers are selected to travel to Italy to spend a week at Martucci’s villa in order to soak up the culture and study cuisine with the chain’s specialists. Her staff is supportive, and her roommate Emily (Ego Nwodim) thinks that the trip could bring romance and change her life.
Those high expectations quickly plummet when Amber and her fellow winners are installed not at the villa but in a run-down motel nearby, and have their passports confiscated and their freedom of movement strictly circumscribed by their snarky, oily overseer Craig (Ben Sinclair), while their days will be spent studying cooking with the chain’s menu-maker Liz (Lauren Weedman).
And of course her classmates are an oddball bunch. There are two guys, Fran (Tim Heidecker), a rude, arrogant know-it-all who flaunts the fact that he once appeared on a TV cooking contest, and Dana (Zach Woods), a dweeb who’s enthralled by the whole Tuscan Grove world. The younger women, Susie (Debbie Ryan) and Jen (Ayden Mayeri), are both more interested in a good time than restaurant study. And Deb (Molly Shannon), is a needy, clingy sort who latches onto Amber and is soon demanding that she be treated as her best friend—and turns into a vituperative shrew when she’s not.
So the movie has turned into a wacky “Office”-like farce.
But the tone grows darker when Martucci appears, along with his intense assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza). He takes an interest in Amber, and Kat arranges for her to go on an outing with him on his yacht. Suddenly we’re apparently in rom-com territory, though with a curious edge in Martucci’s forwardness and his devotion to his late sister, whom Amber purportedly resembles. Is something really creepy going on here?
Then the film shifts into truly sinister mode, as Amber is invited to a party with Martucci at his friend Ricky’s (Fred Armisen) villa. The slimy sculptor-host and his wife (Tricia Helfer) give off a nasty vibe, and their son’s wife becomes positively abusive, forcing Amber to flee with Kat, who shows an interest in her as they roam the city.
But that’s not all: the picture now turns into a goofy parody of a Dario Argento-like giallo, with an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style orgy sequence and a supposed murder mystery shot in lurid colors and creepy camera angles, all enhanced by the music of Pino Donaggio, whose score echoes his work for the real thing decades ago. But by the time a drift of pigs is rushing around and the carabinieri show up, the movie has spun into tonal chaos. It’s never been particularly funny, but now it has become acutely unfunny.
That’s unfortunate, because the cast is capable of so much more. Brie is never able to get a handle on a character who’s perhaps naïve, but maybe just dense; and Nivola seems ill-at-ease throughout, failing to come across as the suavely irresistible type Martucci is apparently meant to be at the start and fumbling the character’s transition in the last act. The other actors are better off, with Plaza nailing Kat’s hardness and both Heidecker and Woods acing what are essentially caricatures. Shannon gets some laughs, but Deb’s shrillness goes too far by the close.
Of course there is compensation in the Italian locations and cinematographer Sean McElwee’s use of them, and in the elegance of the more splendid aspects of Patrick Lumb’s production design, as well as the more opulent of the costumes by Beth Morgan and Alexa Newman. But much of the picture is set in that grubby motel rather than in Italian villas or on the Mediterranean waves, and editor Ryan Brown is defeated by the screenplay’s shifts and stumbles.
Like the assembly-line Italian fare served at the Tuscan Grove, this grab-bag of a movie ends up a pretty indigestible affair–a cinematic meal with multiple courses that are mismatched and muddled.