“Spin Me Round” is a screwy, slow-building cringe-comedy about a simple chain restaurant manager who gets more than she bargained for in a corporate training retreat in sunny Italy. It takes a while to get anywhere, but as we’re in the capable hands of “GLOW” star Alison Brie, we know the Duplass Brothers produced it, and that Aubrey Plaza and Fred Armisen are on the way, we stick around in the hope a big comic payoff is coming.
Brie and her “Little Hours” writer-director Jeff Baena cook up an occasionally amusing tale of innocents abroad — managers from an Italian-American restaurant chain who get more than they bargained for when they’re shipped to Italy for a “training” retreat with the handsome and mysterious founder and CEO.
Brie stars as Amber, an assistant manager at a Bakersfield Tuscan Grove eatery. As the opening credits show us, this isn’t “fine dining” or “authentic” Northern, Southern or Central Italian cuisine. It’s factory made pastas and sauces in plastic pouches that the staff just microwaves and serves.
Her nine years of service are rewarded when the boss (Lil Rel Howery) puts her up for the Tuscan Grove Institute, an Italian working vacation in Pisa and environs. Her BFF is sure she’s “gonna f—–g fall in love” over there, and lovelorn Amber has her hopes.
Nothing like getting off the plane and into the corporate van, driven by dorky but controlling Craig (Ben Sinclair), sitting with bubbly Jen (Ayden Mayeri) and lost-my-luggage depressed Deb (Molly Shannon) to give her the hints that this isn’t going to be as much fun as she’d hoped.
They think “The Institute” is what they’re driving up to, but no, that’s the boss’s villa. They’re parked in a nondescript hotel, and stuck in a training kitchen with fake-enthusiastic chef Liz (Lauren Weedman). The rest of the managers are a nebbish (Zach Woods), a blowhard “foodie” who lost on a TV cooking show (Tim Heidecker) and a flirty ditz (Debby Ryan).
But hey, at least that romance novel cover handsome CEO Nick (Alessandro Nivola) is here. And damned if he doesn’t start paying extra attention to Amber, using his assistant (Plaza) as go-between.
Nivola amusingly sets off alarm bells as Nick, with his too-much eye-contact, textbook manipulations. Amber is on her heels from that first “This must be so exciting for you” to the “You seem so open-minded” flirtation. Will she even notice the gas-lighting?
And when Nick isn’t giving her the full-court press, his assistant is luring Amber out for “cigarette breaks,” onto a motor scooter, into clubs and impromptu illicit meals in the alley behind a 4-star restaurant.
We’re allowed to wonder what Amber is in for, and maybe just what the hell is going on here?
The title, of course, is a sexual double entendre. The jokes and gags range from thin to transparently thin, as the “foodie/chef” angles for control of the cooking demonstrations, the leech (Shannon) attaches herself to everything Amber does, and then one woman after another calls in “sick” for training and disappears, presumably on Nick’s motor yacht.
Baena and Brie wring a little bit of humor out of what the “training” devolves into and deathly-unfunny bits like Amber stalking Nick and his latest protege, only to have to try and clumsily turn around the Institute’s van in the parking lot while he’s watching her.
We get the barest glimpses of Pisa, Rigoli, La Spezia and environs, and see little in the way of food, for those expecting A Taste of Italy,
Things don’t pick up until Plaza shows up, and her big scenes come and go too quickly. The film’s third-act turn towards the dark, when everything the trapped (surrendered passports) managers have been warned about this corner of Tuscany comes true. And that’s where most of the laughs are.
Nivola isn’t a natural at comedy, but he’s good at giving Nick a sinister vibe. Brie is sort of a reactor to the weirdness roiling around her, and Plaza, Dyan (TV’s “Insatiable”) and “Portlandian” Armisen are criminally underused.
That said, if you’re patient enough to stick around for the wilder third act, “Spin Me Round” kind of turns things around. Not quite enough, but close.
Rating: unrated, nudity, profanity
Cast: Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Debby Ryan, Zach Woods, Ayden Mayeri, Tim Heidecker, Ben Sinclair, Lauren Weedman, Lil Rel Howery and Aubrey Plaza
Credits: Directed by Jeff Baena, scripted by Jeff Baena and Alison Brie. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:44