Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spin

2.5/4

Starring: Ryan Merriman, Paula Garces, Stanley Tucci, Dana Delany, Ruben Blades

Rated PG-13 for Thematic Elements and Some Violent Images

"Spin" is a small, character-oriented drama that has some nice performances which are hampered by an inconsistent tone.  Many scenes in this film are either too somber or too melodramatic, and as such dilute the strengths of this simple story.

The film takes place in the 1950's.  Eddie Haley (Max Madore) is staying with his uncle while his parents are flying their plane.  Then his uncle Frank (Tucci) returns and tells him that they have died in a crash.  Frank takes him in, but is called away overseas soon after.  The two people he employs to help keep up his house, Margaret (Delany), an American, and Ernesto (Blades), are left to raise him.

Cut to ten years later (give or take).  Eddie has grown up into a handsome, if rebellious, 17-year-old (now played by Merriman).  He views Margaret and Ernesto as his parents, so when Frank returns home, there's going to be a lot of friction.  He's also falling for Francesca (Garces), a girl he met as a child and has run into again.

For a movie that deals with such complex material, director James Redford has a good sense of balance.  Neither plotline is short-changed, and that lends weight to both.  Both of Eddie's relationships are engaging and presented with depth and feeling.  Tonally, however, is where Redford struggles.

The performances are solid.  Ryan Merriman, who is probably best known for playing the lead in "Final Destination 3," is effective as Eddie, capturing his rebellious but caring nature.  He's certainly handsome, but he's got some acting chops to back it up.  His co-star, Paula Garces, is positively delightful.  Like Merriman, she's known mainly for bit parts but is famous for a bit part in a cultural phenomenon of sorts (she was Maria, the girl that Harold is smitten with in the "Harold and Kumar" movies).  She brings life and energy, not to mention talent, to her scenes as the lovely Francesca.  Merriman can't match her for energy or charisma, although that may have been an intentional choice by the director.  Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, isn't as successful.  Normally an actor who can always be counted on to steal scenes, Tucci's performance doesn't really work.  He's not bad (how could he be?), but he's miscast as the aloof but loving father figure.  Dana Delany and Ruben Blades provide support, but that's really all they are.

I was going to give this film a tentative recommendation until the film's final third.  It's not what happens that doesn't work.  It's how Redford handles it.  Whether it's due to the writing, the direction, or both, a grim turn of events comes across as a sudsy soap opera rather than a gut-punch.  It recovers, but the damage is done.  There are other problems, such as plot holes and subtext that isn't adequately set-up, but those are excusable.  This is not.

There are some things in this movie worth applauding, such as the performances by Merriman and especially Garces.  In the end, however, it's too troubled for me to suggest seeing it.

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