Movie Review: The Wheels Come Off ‘Spinning Man’
Does pervy college professor Evan Birch (Guy Pearce) have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of a high school cheerleader (Odeya Rush)? Or is he completely innocent?
And how can we really know for sure?
That’s the gist of Spinning Man, a new thriller from veteran Dutch director Simon Kaijser, adapted by Matthew Aldrich from the novel George Harrar. And despite the simplistic premise, it’s an engaging little number for much of the running time that mines the did-he-or-didn’t-he premise for all its worth.
It’s also got a juicy lead turn by Pearce, here playing an only slightly more cognizant character than his amnesiac in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Evan, for example, can’t quite remember if he really did have that affair with a student five years back, even though it was witnessed by his wife and caused him to uproot his family.
Likewise, well, he doesn’t think he had anything to do with the cheerleader’s disappearance, even though some Lolita-like flashbacks indicate he knew and lusted after her. And if Evan isn’t entirely sure of his innocence, what’s wife Ellen (Minnie Driver) to think?
Upping Spinning Man's creepazoid factor, Evan is also currently - and unambiguously - involved with another current student, played by Alexandra Shipp. And he seems to fantasize about every other teenage girl he happens to come across. Clearly, he’s guilty of something.
But just to make sure he doesn’t go down for what he did or did not do, Evan won’t be letting displaced Irish police detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan) examine his car - which was spotted near the park around the time the girl went missing - without a warrant. Nor will he be talking to him without his attorney (played by a scene-stealing Clark Gregg).
Of course, this only piques Malloy’s interest in Evan as a suspect, something that sends Evan’s personal and professional life spinning when the media obtains knowledge of his involvement.
For its first two acts, Spinning Man is an entirely engaging slow-burn whodunit with the puzzle pieces surrounding his guilt or innocence slowly coming together: there’s the police work by Malloy,
But the wheels fall off Spinning Man during its final third, when the mystery is revealed and the story comes to a sputtering halt. It’s an all-too realistic conclusion that fits in with the premise but doesn’t belong in this otherwise contrived thriller, and a big disappointment considering the enticing B-movie narrative that has preceded it.
But Brosnan and especially Pearce are great to watch throughout Spinning Man, and their few scenes together - including a climactic car ride - play out in spades. Pearce embodies this sleazebag all-too well, and we can feel Brosnan’s seething frustration with this suspect regardless of his actual guilt in the crime at hand.
And even though the finale drops the ball, Spinning Man is still a compelling ride for most of its running time that raises a lot of provocative questions not normally posed by film of this nature. Because of that, this near-miss is still worth catching.