Ashton Kutcher, who rose to fame on American TV shows That 70s Show and Punk’d before finding success in films like Dude, Where’s My Car?, Just Married and Guess Who?, is more of a personality than an actor. With Spread, Kutcher, as both lead star and producer, endeavours to convince us that he is a thespian. It is an admirable attempt to seem like more than just a goof-ball, but his efforts are sabotaged by a story with all the depth of a bone-dry kiddie pool.
Spread is essentially a Los Angeles-set, 21st century reworking of 1966’s Alfie. The trouble is that Alfie was already updated for the new millennium in the 2004 remake starring Jude Law. That version was a surprisingly worthy riff of the Michael Caine original. Ghosts of both versions haunt nearly every corner of Spread, but even those who haven’t seen either Alfie will find little to grab onto here.
Kutcher is a likeable enough performer and he isn’t without dramatic abilities, as he showed in 2004’s underrated The Butterfly Effect. But here he is stuck playing a vapid homeless, jobless sexual grifter that uses his good looks to weasel his way into the lives of wealthy 30- or 40-something women. Once he gains their trust by earning points for good behaviour and sex these women will pay for his expensive tastes and allow him to stay in their luxurious homes.
As one might expect from director David Mackenzie, the man behind Young Adam, there is a good deal of explicit sex with the first half of the film featuring Kutcher and his primary target Anne Heche doing a fair bit of bumping and grinding. Those hoping that Kutcher, like Ewan McGregor before him, will give the audience a gander at his willie will be disappointed. Mackenzie is now on the sexual repressed soils of America where even sexual movies can’t get too sexual.
Mackenzie is a good filmmaker and the film looks great and moves along nicely. Technically the film is fine, but even the best director can only do so much with a mediocre script. The idea of a con artist that uses sex as his hustle is an interesting one and as Kutcher’s Nikki explains the rules of his lifestyle, it does hold some fascination. Unfortunately, the script by Jason Dean Hall quickly loses any curiosity in exploring this world beyond the mere surface level. Instead of digging deep and trying to say something, Hall simply shows the exploitative, but oddly symbiotic relationships, Nikki enters into.
The biggest problem is that Nikki isn’t particularly interesting. About 45 minutes into the film, Nikki is informed that he is a charmless, humourless, unintelligent whore with no personality who gets by solely on his looks. All this is true and anyone in the audience already came to these conclusions at around the 15-minute mark.
Alfie was also a sexist, insensitive, sexual predator, but as embodied by Caine and Law he was charming. Kutcher doesn’t exude that effortless charisma and while that may just be the character, it makes it very hard to have any sort of rooting interest in him. Inevitably, Nikki has to see the error of his ways, but the film doesn’t even have the courage to really explore the truly dark ways in which that lesson could be taught. Instead Nikki falls for a female sexual hustler (Margarita Levieva).
The film slaps together a montage of Kutcher and Levieva falling in love and heads towards a predictable chase-after-the-girl sequence. This mawkish turn feels completely out of tone with the rest of the film and doesn’t feel like an extension of the characters. The film does redeem itself somewhat with an ending that goes against the conventional path it was heading down, but it is far too late to make a difference.