Film Review: Spread

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PARK CITY -- It's understandable that Sundance has to include a few star-driven items on its schedule to fill the big theaters and help pay the bills, usually in the premiere section, but "Spread" with Ashton Kutcher marks one of the low points of the festival. The story of a handsome young stud out to enjoy the good and easy life in L.A. by servicing older women (and plenty of others on the side), it comes off as an unpleasant, unrealistic morality tale. Loaded with music and pretty bodies, the film has a chance to lasso a young, indiscriminate audience of Kutcher fans.

Curiously, as Nikki, Kutcher's attraction to older women echoes his real life and could become a selling point for the film. Nikki is the kind of arrogant boy-toy who flocks to the City of Angels confident that there is gold in the hills, and for many there is. With a strut to his step and a chip on his shoulder, Nikki hooks up with Samantha (Anne Heche), an attractive barely older woman who installs him like a piece of furniture in her $5 million home overlooking the city (the film's big joke is that it used to be Peter Bogdanovich's place).

Heche still looks great -- with and without her clothes -- and the idea that someone like her is over the hill is one of the film's many offensive elements. Women throughout are disrobing, but except for his shirt, Kutcher remains dressed, a hypocrisy of many films like this.

There is one line in the film that suggests Samantha is a lawyer, but how she came by her money is a mystery beyond the film's reach. When she goes out of town on business, Nikki predictably has a big party, beds a few girls and gets caught having sex during Monday Night Football.

Eventually he's back on the street with no car and no place to live, and calls on his more down to earth high school buddy Harry (Sebastian Stan). When even that relationship sours, he hits rock bottom and sheds a few designer tears. As written by Jason Dean Hall and directed by David Mackenzie, the film strikes few authentic notes, though it is loaded with a pretty good soundtrack of pop tunes, probably intended as another selling point.

But, alas, the tables are turned on Nikki when he meets and falls for the lovely Heather (Margarita Leviera), who is even better at the game than he is. The ending of the film is one of the few bold and unexpected turns, but it's too little, too late, and the rest of the story is utterly predictable.

For this kind of film to work it's necessary to like or at least feel sympathy for the characters. Unfortunately, even in hard times, Nikki is vacuous and uninteresting, and Kutcher, try as he might, is unable to bring him to life. Heche does her best with a thinly drawn role and other performances are adequate but mostly just there as window dressing for Nikki. Befitting this kind of story, the film is stylishly shot by Stephen B. Poster and designed by Cabot McMullen. But it's still probably not a place you'd like to visit.

Production: Katalyst Films, Barbarian Films
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche, Margarita Levieva, Rachel Blanchard, Sebastian Stan, Sonia Rockwell
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Jason David Hall, Paul Kolsby
Producers: Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg, Peter Morgan
Executive producers: Myles Nestel, Anthony Callie, Paul Kolsby, John Limotte, Aaron Kaufman, Douglas Kuber, Ron Hartenbaum
Director of photography: Steven B. Poster
Music: John Swihart
Production designer: Cabot McMullen
Costume designer: Ruth E. Carter
Editor: Nicolas Erasmus
Sales: Endeavor Independent
No rating, 97 minutes
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