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Saturday, November 7, 2009

SPREAD -- DVD review by porfle

I'm going to make a shocking admission: I haven't been following Ashton Kutcher's career very closely lately. So when I saw the DVD cover for SPREAD (2009), I thought: "A movie about sports gambling? Deviled ham? Proctology?"

Actually, a lot of it is about just what you might think, you naughty people, but what it really means is the kind of easy-livin' set-up (as in, "nice spread") a narcissistic young hustler like Nikki (Kutcher) manages to finagle himself into by sweet-talking a rich single woman like Samantha (Anne Heche) into being his sugar mama.

Sam can't resist this cute boytoy who can service her like a sex machine while also playing on her maternal instincts. Nikki uses her credit cards, her material possessions, and her willing body till the wheels come off. But when Nikki falls for a beautiful girl named Heather (newcomer Margarita Levieva) who's just as much of a player as he is, all of his usual tricks backfire on him. Sam finally gets fed up with Nikki's constant promiscuity and kicks him out, leaving him homeless. When he tries to have a real, meaningful relationship with Heather, he finds that he's unable to give her what she's really looking for. Moral: two hustlers can't get anywhere hustling each other.

SPREAD isn't a comedy but it's light on the drama, too. The story's involving enough to keep us interested without engaging us all that much on an emotional level. This fits Ashton Kutcher's acting style since it doesn't go very deep--he manages to look pained when called upon to express anguish or despair, but that's about it. He's at his best when strutting about being irresistible to women or pumping away during the pneumatic, unromanticised sex scenes.

Nikki's opening narration tells us about all the thousands of pretty young hopefuls like himself who pour into L.A. every day looking to make it big. He's not interested in being a movie star, though, just living the good life--or rather, moving in on someone else's. With Samantha, he gets to lounge around the pool all day or have parties in her mansion when she's away, managing to have sex practically every time he turns around. We just know this isn't going to last.

These early scenes are like a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the viewer as we see Nikki coast past long lines into exclusive clubs and breeze through parties being a babe-magnet. He shares his secrets of romantic success with us, but the catch is that you have to look like Ashton Kutcher in order for them to work. As for me, I don't think they'd get me past the opening credits.

Anne Heche is holding up well these days and seems to have fallen off the lesbian wagon for good. We can't really sympathize too much with her character since Sam is good-looking, extremely wealthy, and able to attract guys like Nikki just by flashing her American Express card in public. Margarita Levieva is good as Heather, the mysterious object of Nikki's desire who stokes his interest by playing hard-to-get and then keeps him in the dark about whether or not she'll settle for him or continue to pursue romance in a higher tax bracket. Sebastian Stan (THE EDUCATION OF CHARLIE BANKS) plays Harry, Nikki's sometime-roommate upon whom he depends when things get rotten. Look for Maria Conchita Alonso in a small role as a wealthy matron.

Director David Mackenzie manages to make Jason Dean Hall's lean, straightforward script look pretty good. There are way too many songs on the soundtrack, though--I hate it when every emotional moment instantly sparks yet another sappy emo ballad to tell us how we're supposed to feel.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby surround 5.1. English and Spanish subtitles are available. Extras include three featurettes--"Living the Dream: The Making of SPREAD", "The World According to Nikki", and "Behind the Scenes with Ashton Kutcher"--a commentary track with Kutcher, Heche, and Levieva, and a trailer.

Fairly effective on a superficial level, SPREAD isn't all that different from a lot of softcore DTV flicks with similar themes but manages to rise above them with a capable cast, good production values, and a director who knows how to move the camera. Definitely not essential viewing, but I did find it to be a pleasant enough diversion.

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