Judge Clark Douglas wants to have Ashton Kutcher for breakfast. No, literally. Clark is a cannibal.
Our review of Spread (Blu-Ray), published November 19th, 2009, is also available.
It's a business doing pleasure.
"Ashton said that he just loved the script and that he didn't want to change a word."—screenwriter Jason Dean Hall
Facts of the Case
Nikki (Ashton Kutcher, A Lot Like Love) is a Los Angeles playboy who has no home, no car, and no job. Yet for several years, he's managed to live in luxury. How? By using his good looks and sexual prowess to work his way into the lives of a never-ending string of wealthy women. His latest target is Samantha (Anne Heche, Six Days and Seven Nights), a middle-aged woman who has everything he's looking for: a great body, a great house, and a load of money just waiting to be spent. However, in the middle of his affair with Samantha, Nikki meets Heather (Margarita Levieva, Adventureland), a waitress at a local restaurant. Slowly but surely, Nikki begins to realize just how superficial his life is.
It didn't take me long to start hating Nikki. After hearing his obnoxiously self-absorbed narration delivered in that casual pot smoker-meets-James "Buffalo Bill" Gumb voice, after seeing his condescending way of lazily wandering through a room looking at people as if they're nothing more than his sexual playthings, and after coming to realize that he had absolutely no value or skill beyond finding ways to take advantage of people, I knew that it was going to be difficult spending 97 minute with this tool. Some viewers may find Nikki superficially charming, as so many characters in this film do. I found him to be a horrible human being, but I suppose it's a tribute to Kutcher's performance that I loath Nikki as much as I do. Here is a man whose entire life is built around artifice and lies, a shallow individual with no substance, no moral backbone, no real ambition, no sincerity, no sense of humor, nothing of interest other than a good body and a considerable sex drive.
One might initially think the part is something that plays to Kutcher's ego. After all, this is a man who tells us during the opening scenes that he is capable of getting anything he wants using solely his powers of seduction. However, as I kept watching I began to admire the lengths Kutcher was willing to go to in order to effectively capture the unpleasant aspects of his character. It's good work, and if the film were as mercilessly honest as Kutcher's performance, we might have had a nasty-but-effective film. Unfortunately, the movie goes down a remarkably predictable route as it enters the final stretch, allowing Nikki to get in touch with his feelings, find true love, and redeem himself. Will he choose the wealthy cougar who spends much of her free time getting reconstructive vaginal surgeries or the ordinary waitress with a heart of gold? No points for getting that one right.
Such conventionality seems bizarre and frustrating given the film's desperate attempts to seem "realistic" during the first hour or so. Director David MacKenzie (one of those uncommon modern directors who has absolutely no reservations about including strong sexuality in his films) goes to extremes in order to demonstrate to the viewer just how much of a non-stop sex-a-thon Nikki's life is, offering loads of nudity and over a dozen sex scenes that push the boundaries of the R rating (though somewhat predictably, we never get a glimpse of Little Ashton Kutcher). Kutcher's narration casually tosses out very explicit explanations of how he goes about his seductive leech routine, attempting to startle us with both how frank it is and how nonchalantly it's delivered. Such scenes are drowned in a stylish sea of orgasmic techno music, contrasting to the gentle acoustic material that comes later on when Nikki finds himself getting the warm fuzzies (Brace yourself for the moment in which the happy couple snuggles on the beach at dusk to watch the dolphins). But for all of its hard-R efforts that first hour throws at us, the movie never manages to get beneath the surface of Nikki and his world. When it reaches the conventional Hollywood material, it feels more like an admission of self-awareness than a betrayal of the movie's core.
If you've seen the film, you may feel like the bitter pill of an ending swings the film back into something more convincing. More cynical maybe, but the fact of the matter is that the film has still transformed into a conventional story about a superficial guy getting in touch with his feelings. Hey, I'm all in favor of superficial guys getting in touch with their feelings. But that's hardly enough inspiration for a feature-length film. Spread fails to give us that required something more.
The DVD transfer is decent, capturing the polished and glamorous aesthetic of the film with reasonable clarity. However, it doesn't quite pop off the screen that way that it ought to. Detail is only moderately good, as longer tend to suffer from a bit more softness than I would have liked. The audio is quite excellent, as the soundtrack comes through with an aggressive clarity that will give your speakers a real workout. I'm not a big fan of many of the selections, but they sound excellent. Extras include a rather bland commentary with Kutcher, Heche and Levieva and three making-of featurettes: "Living the Dream: The Making of Spread" (16 minutes), "Behind the Scenes with Ashton Kutcher" (6 minutes), and "The World According to Nikki" (4 minutes). All of these are disposable and uninteresting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In addition to the virtues of Kutcher's performance I mentioned earlier, praise should also go to Anne Heche for her solid turn as Nikki's wealthy squeeze. She is technically a rather thin character, but Heche finds a way to make her considerably more human and sympathetic than Kutcher ever becomes.
Spread earns points for effort, but it sadly remains a frustrating and hollow experience as a whole.
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