With the rise of Internet porn and escort services over the past decade or so, we are overdue for a remake of “American Gigolo” (1980).
So, when “Spread” opened last summer with ads suggesting that Ashton Kutcher was playing a 21st Century Los Angeles gigolo — “It’s a business doing pleasure” was the poster tagline — it looked like one of the more promising of the warm weather pictures.
Sexy fun with a perfectly cast star.
The movie arrived bearing clues that something was off, however — the top-billed producer was the video and cable company, Anchor Bay Entertainment, and “Spread” debuted in a couple of second-tier New York theaters that seem to specialize in bookings financed by distributors who want to avoid a “direct-to-DVD” label.
“Spread” closed quickly after mostly bad reviews and I never had a chance to get to it in a theater.
Last night, I watched an advance copy of the DVD that will be released Nov. 10 and my worst suspicions were confirmed — it’s a dog only partially redeemed by slick production values and racy sex scenes that are a tad more explicit than what we have come to expect from Hollywood.
Kutcher has demonstrated strong comic abilities elsewhere, but there isn’t much that’s funny about the guy he plays in “Spread” — the poorly drawn Nikki, who behaves like a prostitute but who doesn’t appear to know much about the trade he’s plying.
Nikki addresses us directly in frequent voiceover narration filled with tips on how attractive young men can get rich older woman to take care of them. In the opening scene, we watch him reel in the fortysomething Samantha (Anne Heche) who takes Nikki home and sets him up there.
Screenwriter Jason Dean Hall can’t seem to decide if Nikki is a prostitute or just a scrounger — no money changes hands.
Whatever he is, Nikki is a dope who doesn’t give a thought to squirreling a few bucks away for a rainy day. When he and Samantha split, the guy doesn’t even have walking-around money. He’s flat broke, reduced to instant homelessness and selling some of the expensive clothes that were bought for him.
What kind of an L.A. leech — prostitute or not — wouldn’t ask his Sugar Mama for some spending money in addition to his room and board?
“Spread” seems designed to make us dislike Nikki — he presents himself to us as a dumb parasite — so when he “falls in love” with sweet waitress Heather (Margaret Levieva) and then is crushed to find out she is living off a rich guy, it is very hard to care about his heartbreak.
Director David Mackenzie shot “Spread” in a very glossy, wide-screen format that looks sensational, but within a few minutes the sleek style just emphasizes the total emptiness of the storytelling and the characterization.
Kutcher has no one but himself to blame for this fiasco — he produced it, too. The mystery here is why he would rather play a cruddy, short-sighted leech than a real escort with some financial smarts.