“Spin Me Round” isn’t the movie you think it’s going to be. That’s sometimes a good thing, but not always.
The unexpected and offbeat is a valuable quality in a film, as anyone who has seen a Jeff Baena film (“Horse Girl,” “The Little Hours”) knows. “Spin Me Round” has a promising premise and an outstanding cast, including Alison Brie, who co-wrote the film with Baena, as well as Aubrey Plaza (Baena’s wife), Molly Shannon and Fred Armisen. But the grab-bag nature of the plotting proves clunky in places.
It’s never not entertaining — the cast is just too good — but its cultural criticism is not as incisive as it might have been. It’s a little all over the place, in other words, and while all of those individual places have their charms, they don’t add up to a satisfying whole.
An Olive Garden parody of endless-breadstick proportions
Brie plays Amber, the manager of a Bakersfield, California restaurant called Tuscan Grove, which is best described as an Olive Garden knockoff that’s even more Olive Garden-y than the original.
For instance, the pasta Alfredo consists of noodles over which employees squirt a white sauce from a tube; it looks like the paste kindergarteners use on construction paper.
All you can eat, of course.
Amber, however, is dedicated to her job, so much so that her boss (Lil Rel Howery) rewards her by recommending her for a company program where she travels to Italy with other Tuscan Grove managers for a corporate retreat where they will learn the ins and outs of the plastic fantastic cuisine they serve.
Or so they think. Once the managers arrive, they learn they will not be staying in the fabulous villa they thought, but in a bland motel nearby. They’re met at the airport by Craig (Ben Sinclair), the program coordinator, who promptly collects their passports, the first of a field of red flags that pop up.
An oddball crew of characters can't save a spotty plot
It’s an odd bunch. Deb (Shannon) is near-apoplectic because her luggage didn’t arrive; this turns out to be just a preview of what’s in store with her. Dana (Zach Woods) is a Tuscan Grove manager and groupie, better versed in the restaurant and its dishes than the people running the retreat. Tim Heidecker is hilarious as an impossibly arrogant manager trying mightily to impose his talents upon everyone else. A subtle, “This isn’t that kind of kitchen” after he asks for liquid nitrogen was one of the funniest bits in the movie.
Then Nick (Alessandro Nivola), the CEO and founder of the chain, shows up unexpectedly. He pulls his assistant Kat (Plaza) aside, and soon after she’s chatting up Amber — and the next day taking her to Nick’s yacht.
It’s creepy and it’s weird and one of many signs that something is off about the whole trip.
Amber senses this, but has a great time with Nick. Next thing you know she’s accompanying him to a party at the home of a sleazy sculptor (Armisen) and then ... not.
Soon, other managers on the trip go missing, or at least call out sick.
The highlight is a balancing act of absurdity and seriousness
Maybe not what you think, but Amber is determined to get to the bottom of it all. Part of her investigation, if it rises to that level, involves a night out with Kat, and it’s one of the best scenes in the film as they let loose.
Brie and Plaza are always good; the two of them together, balancing absurdity with a dose of seriousness, teetering on the brink of both, is a real highlight.
Too bad there’s not more of it. (That’s a buddy film I’d watch.)
The film overall can’t balance tone the way those two can, so the audience bounces around a bit till things are resolved. The result is a movie that’s fun in spots — a good dish here and there, you might say — that doesn’t add up to a fully satisfying meal.
'Spin Me Round' 3 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Jeff Baena.
Cast: Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola.
Rating: Not rated.
Note: In theaters Aug. 19.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Spin Me Round' review: Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza go to Italy