Spread is a skin-deep glance askance at the City of Skin Deep -- Los Angeles, "where all the beautiful little heartbreakers go to live and dream," narrates its hero. It's like Midnight Cowboy as re-written by Brett Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero), Shampoo with Ashton Kutcher trying to live up to the Warren Beatty acting heft and womanizer rep.
The film doesn't quite come off, though lots and lots of clothes do during its randy, random 97 minutes.
With Nikki, a hustler making his way through Tinseltown on nothing more than his looks and his sexual prowess, Kutcher tries on a little edge to go with his model-next-door looks. He plays off his pretty-boy image, American Gigolo style, and the corrosive narration is meant to help him sell this persona.
"There's only one pickup line. The rest are just cheese."
Nikki trots that line out for one and all: "What's your name?"
He mooches off friends, hits the hot parties (in tight low-riders with colorful suspenders). He tumbles into the lives of various women, sexes them up, uses them and never lets them get too close. He doesn't change his game when he moves in with a rich and successful older woman ( Anne Heche). Heche lets us feel both her outrage and her vulnerability at this betrayal.
Then Nikki meets his opposite number, a young woman (Margarita Levieva) every bit as mercenary as he is. She takes calls from her sugar daddy while on dates with him, and dismisses Nikki because he might get in the way of her plan to marry money. He doesn't have any, so no chance here, pal.
Kutcher's turn in this is more cynical and slippery than we've ever seen him. For whatever reason, it's a role he connected with. And whatever the film's sins, he's believable as this vapid hustler who discovers depth he didn't know he had. He makes this rake a little likable even at his worst.
Scottish director David Mackenzie (Asylum, Young Adam) gets the vibe and look of LA, and there's just enough sexual corruption in James Dean Hall's script that we can buy into this story, over-familiar as it is.
Every generation needs reminding that skating by on your looks and sexuality may work "back home" but won't get you far in a town where thousands of young and beautiful new skaters show up every month. But as Spread proves, it's hard to dive into that culture of surface allure without wallowing in the shallow end yourself.
Three of five starsCast: Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche, Margarita Levieva
Director: David Mackenzie
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Industry rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and languageCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times