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Film review: Spin

Ryan Merriman in "Spin."
Ryan Merriman in "Spin."

"Spin" operates a lot like the vintage aircraft seen throughout the movie. The film roars to life and soars for a brief time, only to sputter out about halfway through its journey — and then it begins an inevitable downward spiral.

That the movie manages to land safely without crashing and burning is an accomplishment. That's because the material — an adaptation of Donald Everett Axinn's novel of the same name — is basically unadaptable. Its themes can't really be expressed the same way on film as on the printed page.

Also, doing such a dicey period piece obviously taxes the skills of screenwriter James Redford (son of Robert Redford), who is making his directorial debut. But give him points for being so ambitious the first time out.

Most of the story is set in the 1950s and follows Eddie Haley (Ryan Merriman), an orphan who's been brought up by his Air Force pilot uncle (Stanley Tucci). Well, to be more correct, he's been raised by his uncle's ranch hands (Ruben Blades and Dana Delany).

Eddie has also been struggling with some issues involving his parents' deaths (they perished in a plane crash). So he's not sure how to feel when his uncle returns from one of his government-sponsored trips and suddenly encourages him to take up flying. Meanwhile, Eddie is taking tentative steps toward a relationship with Francesca Montoya (Paula Garces), a childhood friend with whom he's become reacquainted as classmates in school.

Much of the material here doesn't translate well from book to film, but at least Redford doesn't revert to a voice-over narration to "get inside" his character's heads.

To be fair, Redford's pacing is pretty good, and a lot of the shots are nicely set up. He also has a decent lead in Merriman, though the twentysomething actor really can't be onscreen with Blades, Delany or Tucci for long without being blown away.

Worse, Garces not only looks too old for her part (she's nearly 30), she's also unconvincing and stiff. In fact, one of her character's breakdown scenes is unintentionally funny — even though the cause is not a laughing matter.

"Spin" is rated PG-13 for profanity, violence (a brief scuffle, a suicide and some sexual violence against women), and brief gore. Running time: 107 minutes.