Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche, two potentailly interesting actors whose big-screen caeers have been in decline, must have felt need to stretch when they accepted their roles in David Mackenzie's “Spread,” a vastly disappointing, utterly predictable morality tale.


The movie, produced by Kutcher, world-premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Fest, where it was greeted with largely negative response.  Overture Films is releasing the film this week in a platoform mode beginning N.Y. and L.A.  But alas, the picture, likely to be dismissed by most critics, will not do much for either player.


Kutcher plays Nikki, a handsome young stud who enjoys the easy, decadent life in L.A. by servicing older women.  Viewers will find an interesting parallel with his offscreen life—Kutcher is the companion of Demi Moore who's older than him by a decade or so.  Nikki's best attributes are described as “six inches and a handsome face,” and though there are not many explicit allusions to it, Nikki must be good at his metier.

We have seen variations of the Nikki character before, and in better films, such as Paul Scharder's stylishly elegant “American Gigolo,” with Richard Gere wearing Armani in the lead.  But a written by first-timer Jason Dean Hall and directed by David Mackenzie, “Spread” feels shallow and fake, with some seductive surfaces and energetic pop tunes but no real substance.


Nikki begins as an arrogant, immature boy, who arrives at the City of Angels confident that it's the new frontier for him.  Shortly after landing, he meets Samantha (Anne Heche), an attractive older woman who treats him like a toy or item of her decor in her lush $5 million Hollywood Hills house, wone with a lovely swimming pool and gorgeous view of the city.

Turning point occurs when Samantha, a fortysomething corporate lawyer, goes out of town on business, and Nikki is left on his own.  Predictably, he goes wild, throws big parties, sleeps around with other women, until he gets caught having sex during Monday Night Football.  Back on the street, with no car and no place to live, he asks his high school buddy Harry (Sebastian Stan) for help. From that point on, he skids down the road, hitting rock bottom.  It's only a matter of time until this cad will get his comeuppance.

Who are these unappealing characters?  Samantha is a lawyer but she is rarely seen working or talking about work.  Mostly what we see is Nikki and Samantha engaging in various sexual positions in every possible place in her home.  And there's also the issue of the double standard: While the women disrobe and reveal their naked bodies, Kutcher remains fully dressed, or shirtless, stripped to his waist.

Things change when Nikki meets and falls for Heather (Margarita Leviera), a lovely femme who is even better at the game than he is.  But the rushed resolution is not particularly convincing, giving the impression that the filmmakers didn't really know how to end their tale.

What has happened to the gifted British director David Mackenzie, whose first film, “Young Adam,” in 2003, starring the great Tilda Swinton and Ewan McGregor, showed so much promise?

Though he didn't write the script, he must have seen in it some qualities that we viewers don't.  Moreover, as helmer, he has not coaxed good performances from his leads, who both may be miscast, albeit for different reasons.


Indeed, even in hard times, Nikki comes across as vacuous, not too bright, and unsympathetic.  Borrowing a device from another famous gigolo, William Holden's Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder's “Sunset Boulevard,” Kutcher offers voice-over narration, but his commentary is not scarcastic or illuminating, just witless, failing to offer illuminating insights about his or the other characters.  As for Heche, who's middle-aged and still is physically attractive, she really is not old enough to play such a desperate woman.


Production values are good.   The film is stylishly shot by Stephen B. Poster and elegantly designed by Cabot McMullen, and the music is more vivid and appealing than the protgaonists or their stories.