What’s in a name? Oversized box-office receipts for a shrill, poky comedy about good sportsmanship and the pursuit of big dreams. Bend It Like Beckham was the sleeper hit of 2002 in the U.K., but you could slap the England football captain’s name on even a recent Guy Ritchie film and it would get a successful release on the scepter’d isle. Subject of a Warwick University study (“Celebrity, Masculinity and the Soccerati”), winner of Posh Spice’s affections (his wife has dubbed him “Golden Balls,” which he occasionally stores in her skivvies), honored with his own brand of sausages (Tesco’s “World Cup Benders”), David Beckham is a secular saint, Georgie Best and Gloriana mingled in the flesh and blood of a Nordic deity fell to earth in sarong and rimless sunglasses.
Becks is seen but not heard in Bend It—he smiles beatifically in poster form above the bed of closet footie enthusiast Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), who mystifyingly insists on the stumplike diminutive “Jess.” Her trad family would much rather see Jess dutifully married off to a wealthy Sikh suitor than darkening her skin playing soccer in the park near her Hounslow home. Chirpy Jules (Keira Knightley, who boasts a Beckhamy concave abdominal strata) complicates matters when she recruits Jess for a women’s team coached by pouty Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers!). This Irish fox proves alluring to both girls, or so we’re told—the film flirts awkwardly with Personal Best-style sapphism but eventually calls upon the sporty spices to declare their heterosexuality. Poor Nagra and Rhys-Meyers even have to mime falling in love, much to the elder Bhamras’ intense but conveniently amenable dismay. Only silent Becks himself rises unstained from this reheated ethno-niche stew, which has nonetheless made a major contribution to U.K. culture in the form of headline fodder. Last fall, tabloid covers convulsed with the shocking revelation that Man United’s finest had—deep breath—begun wearing a headband. The screamer? “BAND IT LIKE BECKHAM.”
The traumatized critic must struggle to avoid capital letters in urging patrons to steer clear of the colorfully cast but unbearable Spun, which beds down in merciless close-up with a band of L.A. tweakers for three sleepless days and nights. Madonna-video vet Jonas Åkerlund zealously strains to match Requiem for a Dream‘s attack-dog editing and gross-out verisimilitude, and a few members of his cast seem infected with his fervor (viz., bug-eyed Mena Suvari, spectacularly constipated). The film’s main offense lies not in its fetid fetishes, however, but in asking us to sympathize with oleaginous schmo Ross (Jason Schwartzman), who pines for his ex while another lass is tied to his bed and Billy Corgan’s acoustic warblings commiserate on the soundtrack. Pope of Greenwich Village fans take cautious note: Spun does stage an all-thumbs reunion of Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke; the latter now resembles Robert Duvall in his Stalin makeup.