Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish play unbelievably gorgeous heroin junkies in Candy, a don't-try-this-at-home melodrama adapted from Australian author Luke Davies's aptly billed "novel of love and addiction." Essentially, the film is Requiem for a Dream with a lot less of that overrated indie's shooting-gallery pizzazz, although director Neil Armfield does put his smacked-out couple on one of those centrifugally forceful amusement park rides in the very first scene in order to suggest that their young lives are, you know, spinning out of control.
Candy's whirlwind-carnival metaphor is maybe not quite as tiresome as it sounds. Dizziness, even to the point of nausea, is both what we crave from the drug movie and what we dread in it: Like the gangster film, the drug flick tempts us with red-hot outlaws, knowing that we know they're bad, and disturbs us with a violent comeuppance both inevitable and well-deserved. Candy contrives to twist that proven formula somewhat, but it's still a movie in which hell clearly awaits our sexy antiheroes—even more clearly in this case given that the first two of the film's three acts are called, uh, "Heaven" and "Earth." If obviousness is preferable to pretension, then Armfield improves immeasurably on the source material, whose own tripartite plunge is spelled out in such discrete sections as "Invincibility," "The Kingdom of Momentum," and "The Momentum of Change."
Merely unstoppable, suburban Sydney addicts Candy (Cornish) and Dan (Ledger) step off the merry-go-round and get spun at home: The former fixes by needle for the first time while the latter sits nervously at the kitchen table, his head positioned directly in front of the fridge's electrical cord in order for Armfield to illustrate that the guy is indeed wired. Cornish, Kidmanesque in her elusive, look-but-don't-touch allure, may have the title role here, but Ledger, longhaired and so soft-looking you'd think he was being shot slightly out of focus, is the movie's real eye candy. Armfield's ample theater background may help explain his facility in staging an early sex scene so that Ledger's nude bod can be appreciated from every angle...er, sorry, almost every angle. But any director would have to be stupid not to take nearly full advantage of Ledger, the rare young movie actor who's willing and able to objectify himself in sexual terms and make it read, River Phoenix-style, as the character's vulnerability more than the performer's.
No wonder Candy's trick-turning for cash is presented as a given, as what women junkies always do in order to subsidize their dark habits, while Dan gets to deliberate over whether to prostitute himself. Ultimately, some man's lack of nerve—the novelist's, the director's, or the character's (but probably not the actor's)—pushes the desperate junkie into the altogether safer realm of wallet-snatching.
En route to "Hell," the film manages some faintly amusing moments. "Heaven" has newlyweds Dan and Candy shooting up at their wedding reception, where poor Dan is treated to a boring elder's Graduate-level career counsel—real estate, not plastics—and literally nods off. Even in "Earth," where the honeymoon is over and the strung-out missus complains from across the living room that she can hear her hubby's Bic scratching the crossword puzzle, Armfield's candy-colored sets keep things on the implausibly cheery side of surreal.
Or so they do until the requisite withdrawal scene, which uses nothing more than a room-sized mattress and a pathetically old TV set as props, the quivering junkies left to their own devices. Any drug movie's effectiveness can be measured by the strength of its detox, and Candy doesn't sweeten the cold turkey. Alas, it's a downward spiral from here in more ways than one. Though the particulars of "Hell" vary greatly (and predictably) according to gender, neither one of the addicts makes much sense: He's supposedly a poet and she's allegedly a painter, yet Candy ends up doing all the writing, and Dan, despite his affection for e.e. cummings, remains a dependent partner of clinically low self-awareness. You want to blame all that on the junk, known as "Yellow Jesus" and given like communion by the pair's organic chemistry-teaching supplier (an unforgivably hammy Geoffrey Rush). But no matter the neo-psychedelic pop soundtrack and occasional double-vision cinematography: Dope just can't account for the film's fried brain cells.