The lithe, glum women of Spread fulfill the prurient promise of the film's title without doing much else. Ashton Kutcher, the star and producer of the soft-core, low-budget ode to his own powers of seduction, does somewhat less. Kutcher plays Nikki, a heartless sexual grifter who left the Midwest for L.A. with nothing but the flannel shirt on his back and a Van Halen video dream of drinking cocktails by the pool and fucking girls who are six feet tall and weigh 89 pounds. Thanks to his chiseled body and his eagerness to trade it for a stay in the posh digs of the women he seduces, he is pretty much living the dream.
Nikki delivers his tweet-sized pearls of wisdom ("When a girl tells you you're not getting any, before you even try, you're getting some," "I like kitchen sex as much as the next guy, but let's face it: if a bed's in the room, you're three times more likely to have sex") in a flat American Psycho-style voice-over. It's effortfully serious and bizarre enough to make us never want to see Kutcher venture outside of rom-com territory again. The script rides largely on his nudity, which is active and plentiful.
Director David Mackenzie (also of the Ewan McGregor nudity vehicle Young Adam) takes an age-old formula, adds some slick shots of Hollywood's vapid underworld, and subtracts a lot more. Nikki's an American hustler without Audrey Hepburn's style or wit, Julia Roberts' likability or Richard Gere's red-blooded masculine sexuality. He has a girl's name, after all. He also wears skinny suspenders that are too long for him and cuffed jeans that reveal a couple inches of toned calf above his high-tops. And keffiyehs and leather necklaces and any other self-conscious assortment of hipster regalia. Irritating, but he's pretty and he ate only one meal a day to get naked for this film, so he's supposed to bed women with a single predatory glance.
Nikki's latest conquest is Samantha, a moneyed, 40ish attorney gamely played by Anne Heche. He puts her at ease by driving her Mercedes SUV with the windows down and hanging his head out like a dog while Foghat blares from the radio. Samantha feels young and alluring once again, and providing beautiful Nikki with the lifestyle he craves is a small price to pay.
Nikki and Samantha have a lot of bouncy sex, mostly on her hard-looking modern furniture and roomy terrace overlooking the Hollywood hills. He adheres closely to an internal points system to win her trust: fuck her well but leave room for improvement, leave your ringing cell phone within her earshot, cook her dinner but make it bad enough to reveal the effort involved. She'll never suspect you're shaving another girl's pubes in her bathtub while she's out of town. And when Samantha comes home to find her boy toy watching Monday Night Football in her house while receiving a blow job from a young blonde wearing nothing but a helmet, her reaction is that of a carefully groomed co-dependent: tempered anger followed by a swift unloading of clothes.
All is well until love gets in the way! Nikki meets a pretty, magnetically cold waitress, Heather (Adventureland's Margarita Levieva), and suddenly his self-loathing soul emerges. But Heather is playing the same game he is, living large at the expense of the wealthy men she bangs. Unfamiliar feelings of hurt and jealousy ensue and so unfolds an obnoxious prisoner's dilemma wherein either's desire to follow their heart is punished with financial loss. Will Nikki throw his Gucci briefs to the wind and win the girl's heart before she marries a New York multi-millionaire? It's hard to care. Read O. Henry for a more poignant illustration of this grade school lesson, or rent an Ashton-free skin flick.
'Spread' opens Friday, August 14.
WATCH the trailer: