Call it a low-suds 'Shampoo'

Ashton Kutcher's suspenders-wearing stud in "Spread" arrives in Los Angeles dreaming of the good life, which, for Kutcher's Nikki, revolves around Amazon women, beaches, Amazon women on beaches and designer underwear.

"Damn you, Van Halen!" Nikki bitterly laments in what passes for character revelation late in the film. Nikki, you see, thought life here really mirrored the images in music videos that he would have been too young to have watched in the first place. Nikki realizes -- too late, of course -- that, in the immortal words once sung by David Lee Roth, he's just a gigolo and life goes on without him.

If only "Spread" were half as entertaining as a Van Halen video. The sex-laden Kutcher vehicle vaguely aims to be "Shampoo" for a new generation, but its formulaic, unconvincing story adds little to the conversation about slack ambition, mutual exploitation and evolving social mores. Casting Kutcher as an empty-headed boy toy feels as spot-on as having Keanu Reeves play an impassive alien, though "Spread" is unwilling to let Nikki's narcissism ever veer too far from the actor's sunny persona.

Nikki's sex machine lays out the rules of the game in the movie's opening minutes. Prowling around an L.A. nightclub, looking for a "situation," Nikki informs us through running voice-over commentary that, through a system of sex and sweet talk, you need to score a certain amount of points with a woman before she can trust you.

"Then you can go back to watching football," he adds with a sigh of relief.

Nikki quickly scores with Samantha (Anne Heche), a 40-ish attorney who comes equipped with a dream home in the Hollywood Hills and a willingness to overlook the young man's wandering eye. Nikki and Samantha share a passion for shopping and sex (director David Mackenzie puts his actors through the Kama Sutra playbook), but Prada and prurience can go only so far. A dude needs his down time.

When Nikki meets his female mirror image (Margarita Levieva), "Spread" goes into comeuppance cruise control as Nikki struggles with a vague moral hangover and a limited understanding of love. Suddenly it makes sense why this piece of eye candy is without a home or a car. A haircut and a smile can take you only so far in this town, a lesson Nikki should have learned while watching Van Halen videos all those years ago.



MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language

Running time: 1 hour,

38 minutes

Playing: In wide release

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction "Spread": A review in Friday's Calendar of the film "Spread" implied that the 1985 David Lee Roth recording of "Just a Gigolo" was a Van Halen project. It was a solo project.
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