'Spread'

"Spread" squanders some initial goodwill on a forced, desultory final act.

With “Shampoo” and “American Gigolo” now distant memories, the time evidently seemed ripe for another Hollywood stud movie. Despite Ashton Kutcher’s believability as an older woman’s kept boy, “Spread” isn’t a patch on those previous films, squandering initial goodwill on a forced, desultory final act. Kutcher’s name and some fairly hot action give this a viable shot at a theatrical fling, but staying power is suspect. International prospects seem good.

You see them all the time in Hollywood, the golden boys with great good looks and toned bods and no apparent cares in the world who hang around clubs and pools. They almost invariably look vapid as hell and quite without character, which is probably why they do what they do instead of becoming successful actors.

The initial appeal of “Spread” is that the voiceover commentary of just such an airhead, Nicki (Kutcher), promises to expose the inner workings of these guys’ mysterious minds. As he makes the party rounds one night, Nicki goes on and on about his predatory calculations: how he sizes up his prey, what poses and attitudes he strikes and how to snare a rich older woman so she’ll support him even if he misbehaves with young babes.

If such uncensored self-revelation had persisted through the whole movie, Brit director David Mackenzie and writer Jason Dean Hall might have brought something fresh to the table with this all-too predictable cautionary tale; why not make a film about a guy who really does have it all figured out, rather than about a cocky young hustler who just thinks he does and requires a comeuppance to pay the price for his arrogance?

Pic’s flash and Nicki’s audacious juggling of hot little numbers are distracting for a while. Looking for the easy life, lanky, diffident Nicki latches on to Samantha (Anne Heche), a lady in her early 40s with a fabulous Hollywood Hills home (“Peter Bogdanovich used to live here,” she notes), well preserved looks, obvious resources and a pulsing libido.

Once she’s hooked, Samantha takes off for New York for a few days, whereupon Nicki promptly throws a big party at her house for all his scenester friends. Director Mackenzie showed a knack for staging rugged sex in “Young Adam,” and the randy interludes between Kutcher, Heche and others goes beyond the Hollywood norm.

But the pic’s downward spiral starts as soon as the plot machinery kicks in — Samantha and Nicki argue and screw their way toward the inevitable split, Nicki falls for a female version of himself, Heather (Margarita Levieva), then wonders where he went wrong. All that’s missing is a wrap-up theme song, “What’s It All About, Nicki?”

For all of Nicki’s initial confidentiality with the audience, too many questions go unanswered: If he’s so expert at what he does, why does he have absolutely nothing to show for it? He seems to have his strategy for conquest down to a science, but what’s his long-range game plan? How can he decline so quickly that he can’t employ his old tricks anymore?

The pic reveals the palpable pressure to resolve matters pressing heavily on a screenwriter who opted for an unsatisfactory shortcut to an ending.

Kutcher’s fine as far as things go, but the script aborts its early stab at real character revelation. Supporting players are able, but the pic could have used a greater array of Hollywood types to provide a richer canvas. While tech contributions are solid, Mackenzie provides a less distinctive view of Los Angeles than have numerous other foreign directors over the years.

Viewers should make a point of sticking around through the end credits scroll, which is truly unique.

Spread

Production

A Barbarian Film and Oceana Media Finance presentation of a Katalyst Films production. Produced by Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg, Peter Morgan. Executive producers, Aaron Kaufman, Ron Hartenbaum, Douglas Kuber, Paul Kolsby, John Limotte, Myles Nestel, Anthony Callie. Directed by David Mackenzie. Screenplay, Jason Dean Hall; story, Hall, Paul Kolsby.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Steven Poster; editor, Nicholas Erasmus; music, John Swihart; music supervisor, Elizabeth Miller; production designer, Cabot McMullen; art director, Dina Danielson; set decorator, Beth Wooke; costume designer, Ruth Carter; sound, Coleman Metts; re-recording mixer, Steve Pedeson; line producer, Mark Moran; assistant director, Christoper Bryson; casting, David Rubin, Richard Hicks. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 17, 2009. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Nicki - Ashton Kutcher Samantha - Anne Heche Heather - Margarita Levieva Harry - Sebastian Star Emily - Rachel Blanchard Ingrid - Maria Conchita Alonso

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