Anchor Bay // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // November 19th, 2009
It's a business doing pleasure.
When I first saw the trailer for Spread, I wasn't just turned off, I felt an instant visceral hatred for what the film seemed to glamorize. Why would I want to spend 90 minutes watching Ashton Kutcher lounge around Los Angeles mansions and bed Hollywood models? Isn't seeing him in those ridiculous digital camera commercials enough? However, when Spread finally came out and didn't even gross a million dollars, I almost felt remorseful, as if my ill will singlehandedly caused the film's beyond-paltry box office. To make amends, I decided to give it a shot in my home theater, on Blu-ray no less.
The ladies like Nikki (Kutcher, What Happens in Vegas), and Nikki likes the ladies -- or at least, he likes hot rich ladies whom he can exploit for sexual favors and material gain (and who doesn't like them, right?). In fact, Nikki is so good at exploiting women with low self-esteem that he is a professional moocher/gigolo; seems women like him so much they will happily house, clothe, and feed him in exchange for enjoying his masculine wiles.
Of course, trouble comes when Nikki actually develops feelings for a woman he's pursuing. Heather (Margarita Levieva, Adventureland) is not rich -- she's a waitress in a diner -- but is young, beautiful, and mysterious. This is a woman who drives an $80,000 sports car and blames her mood swings on a possibly fictional incontinent younger brother. If you think Nikki's current sugar mamma Samantha (Anne Heche, Hung) isn't going to be threatened by younger competition, well then, you don't know cougars.
By the time I actually watched Spread my animosity for what I thought the film was about had dissipated. Then within the first two minutes it all came back, and then some.
The movie opens with Nikki prowling a hot Los Angeles nightclub, narrating his search for a vulnerable woman he can exploit. It wasn't so much the vileness of this pursuit that turned me off -- there are plenty of compelling characters who do vile things -- but the smugness with which Nikki conducts it. His voiceover exudes an affected lethargy, as if he were bored by his obvious magnitude and charm, and the capacity for wickedness these imbued him with. It instantly made me think of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, with a touch of Ferris Bueller mixed in -- a noxious combination, especially in a film that is not a satire. This was not a character I could care about -- much less want to spend time with.
Of course, Spread wants you to do both. As in the far superior film Shampoo or the sitcom Cheers, this movie tries to mine the irony and tragedy of an unapologetic lothario finally falling in love with the one woman immune to his charms. Still, I don't see why anyone would care if Nikki gets his comeuppance. In fact, it seems well deserved. Perhaps the one original wrinkle here is that the object of Nikki's affection, Heather, is possibly nefarious as well. That said, since I don't really care about Nikki, I'm not really compelled to learn how the girl he's dating can afford a luxury sports car.
Perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I live in Los Angeles, and these characters exhibit the most vile of the Angeleno stereotypes: that we're vain, superficial, and status obsessed. Sure, those might not be baseless charges, but at this point they're unoriginal and uninteresting. Kinda like the movie itself.
One of the few assets of the film is the Los Angeles locales, especially the picturesque views from the hillside mansions. The 1080p picture on the Blu-ray shows a stunning blue skyline framing much of the action, and it's often a wonder to behold. Additionally, Spread had some excellent location scouts, and showcases some of the beautiful architecture in Los Angeles, as well as some great LA locations. This really is a great-looking film and one of the best portraits of the city.
The Los Angeles location also comes to life on the film's audio track, presented in a DolbyTrue 7.1 lossless soundtrack. The scenes in clubs or house parties all make great use of ambient music and conversation; the external scenes also pick up the varied and subtle sounds of a vibrant city. Even in tandem with the picture quality, this is not enough to save the film, but there is much to admire in the meticulous detail to the movie's sight and sound, as well as its presentation on Blu-ray.
Of all the extras on the disc, I was only interested in the commentary track with actors Kutcher, Heche, and Levieva. The film received such poor reviews and box-office returns that I thought the movie's three principals might have a heart-baring discussion on what went wrong. Instead they discuss the subtext of the film, as it were, which did not really pique my interest.
"Urban Sprawl: Los Angeles in Spread" allows the movie's Production Designer Cabot McMullen and Set Decorator Beth Wooke to discuss their work in imbuing Los Angeles into the movie explicitly and subtly, making the film's superficial look and sound its biggest asset.
"Living the Dream: The Making of Spread" is your typical 15-minute featurette with actors discussing the movie intercut with selected scenes.
Lastly there are two featurettes about Ashton Kutcher: "Behind the Scenes With Ashton Kutcher" is an excuse for his co-stars to gush about working with him, while "The World According to Nikki" allows Kutcher to discuss some insights on LA nightlife.
Unlike the producers of Spread, I have given some thought to who the target audience for this film could be -- though I can't come up with a satisfactory answer. There aren't enough laughs for this to be a comedy, and the story is far too slight to be an effective drama. The protagonist is such a cad I can't imagine the movie satisfying romance fans. Maybe teenage boys will appreciate the abundant nudity, but I think they won't appreciate all the cloying emotional stuff. Ultimately, unlike Nikki, this is a film that won't satisfy anyone.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site