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'Spin Me Round' Review: Shapeshifting Italy-set mystery, with a dash of disappointment

The latest from the director of "Horse Girl" and "The Little Hours" is a flavorless blend of tone that never finds its right proportions.
Credit: IFC Films

TEXAS, USA — Few countries have forged as versatile a relationship with the movies over the decades as Italy. The same balcony where an American expat falls in love in one story could be the staging ground for a vicious killing in another, and the only thing flying higher than Jason Bourne or James Bond sprinting along Venician rooftops is Spider-Man on summer vacation. 

Leaping into this history with an eagerness to spread its wings but lacking solid ground to take off from is director Jeff Baena’s “Spin Me Round,” about the local manager of an “Olive Garden” knockoff who embarks on a company retreat abroad and ends up at an all-you-can feast of strange characters, murky motivations and shoddily packaged commentary. It’s a trifle whose stabs at comedy are best-suited for those who haven’t seen many comedies, but “Spin Me Round” feels increasingly aimless even as a sense of urgency is introduced and the movie's genre contours broaden. Sure, it may be mildly amusing that the introduction between Alison Brie’s Amber and the odd cadre of fellow managers resembles an AA meeting, but how much self-awareness tinges that scene when the rest of the movie so resembles a project in need of an intervention?

Regardless of her previous collaborations with Baena (she starred in and cowrote previous movies of his, as she does here), it at least makes sense to enlist Brie, whose prowess at shifting into wide-eyed bemusement makes her an appropriately anxious audience proxy the more “Spin Me Round” bears down on its destabilizing tendencies. An air of offness permeates things in the early going, and not just because the retreat is supervised by a weapons-grade creep or because its invitees more easily resemble a group of rehabilitating employees rather than the Ameritalian chain’s best of the best; as they banter their way through airless sequences of cooking workshops and European selfie-taking, “Spin Me Round” also falls into a frustrating rhythm of luring the viewer to more fantastical corners of its paradise-by-the-sea drama only to slam the door when we get too close to a potentially more interesting movie. 

Those bruises grow darker once Aubrey Plaza’s beguiling Kat is introduced, a glimmer of mischief in her eye when they aren’t rolling into the back of her head. As the assistant to handsome restaurant company founder Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola), Plaza at least gives the slumbering movie a driving question – namely, what’s up with Kat’s mysterious interest in Amber? – but the character is written with too many fakeouts of her own, emphasizing “Spin Me Round’s” fatal lack of propulsion. Once revelations do arrive, it feels like a false start for a movie that’s taken far too long to find its featherweight-thriller groove. 

The title of this film may as well refer to a spin-the-bottle game of tones, and Baena on occasion does suggest an intention to lead us astray by abandoning cliches as swiftly and as hard as he leans into them. So insincere is the film about either its drama or comedy that it borders on the surreal; more than caring about Amber of puzzling over Kat, the tug of a movie that always appears to have another card up its sleeve might be enough to keep dubious viewers watching.  

But that investment is never paid off with the satisfaction of watching contrasting genres elegantly embrace. Rather, it’s a head-on collision whose smoldering wreckage left me wondering if I hallucinated some of the movie’s later sequences, including (but not limited to) a rampage of hogs, Argentoesque suspense and climactic detour into Kubrickian parody. “Spin Me Round” doesn’t come into its own so much as it gleefully goes off the rails of emotional logic and thematic suggestion, and that might be enough for some who can shrug off the suspicion that this particular production was an instance of shoot-first, develop-plot later. 

It takes a special daring, however – and not the kind of daring Baena teased with the lucid dream of a film that was his last effort, “Horse Girl” – to retroactively tie your movie’s lack of wit into the underlying conspiracy that wraps its tendrils around Amber in the final act, which is the lingering sour note Baena leaves with “Spin Me Round.” If the movie at its core is a mystery, its revelations are obvious. If it’s a satire, its commentary is roughly sketched. If it’s striving above all for laughs, it would have served Baena and company well to do more than drive three or four punchlines repeatedly into the ground. If it was a big-budget excuse to take a spin around Italy, well… mission accomplished. 

"Spin Me Round" is not rated. It opens in theaters Friday. Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes. 

Starring Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Ben Sinclair, Alessandro Nivola

Directed by Jeff Baena; written by Jeff Baena and Alison Brie




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