"I don't want to be arrogant here, but I'm an incredibly attractive man."
The above quote emerges from the potentially herpetic mouth of Nikki, the man of a thousand scams and our semi-hero in the grim motion picture, "Spread." The line is also the one and only time there's any clarity of character in the entire film. Sure, this bit of dialogue is a completely repellent statement of pure ego, but it's a crumb of realism the rest of the film ignores as it painfully mopes to a ridiculous conclusion. "Spread" is simply an Ashton Kutcher vanity film. Perhaps it shouldn't be required to plumb the depths of loneliness and hustler panic, but someone forgot to tell director David Mackenzie not to expect so much from the screenplay. He pushes and pulls, but extracting authentic emotion and basic behavioral logic from "Spread" is like asking Kutcher to convey introspection. It simply cannot be done.
Nikki (Ashton Kutcher) is a young L.A. plaything, preying on the insecurities of older women with his good looks and attention to orgasmic details. His latest conquest is Samantha (Anne Heche), an attorney who allows Nikki to lounge in her luxurious home while she goes about her daily business. Lapping up the architectural magnificence, Nikki continues his ways of womanizing, taking on a string of lovers while placating Samantha with his sexual prowess. When Nikki spies Heather (Margarita Levieva) in a diner, he immediately tries to seduce her, only to find unusual resistance. Learning Heather is up to the very same games of whoredom to get by in the big, bad city, Nikki finally cracks her frosty veneer, only to find his one shot at an authentic, loving relationship might be a crippling impossibility.
"Spread" offers Aston Kutcher the type of role Warren Beatty once played in his prime years of womanizing/acting, inhabiting a character inching uneasily on a thin wire of charm, balanced precariously on a crumbling mound of good looks. Kutcher isn't the most gifted dramatic actor working today, and "Spread" asks far more of him than he's capable of giving. Nikki is a dim-witted conductor of women and close friends, working the L.A. scene with the study of a scientist, equating the steps of his shallow sugar mama parings to "equity," using sex as a weapon to infiltrate the soothing depths of feminine wealth. Hoping to sustain his slacker lifestyle of sandwiches and sunning, Nikki is scripted as a man enamored with his manipulative gamesmanship. Kutcher plays the role as a wounded puppy with occasional devilish instincts, reducing (or not even considering) the character's vile nature as a habitual user to tap more easily into a stream of sympathy.
It's a frustrating performance from Kutcher (who attempts some sort of Sweathog accent to butch Nikki up, perhaps forgetting that the character is named Nikki), rapidly encouraged by Mackenzie, who loses sight of the film's identity early on, hoping the picture's rather gymnastic displays of sexual intercourse and abrupt character turns will cover Jason Dean Hall's flaccid screenplay. About halfway through "Spread," matters stop making sense completely, with the paring of Nikki and Heather taking top priority, only to find the proper dramatic beats to their endless love missing. The director cheats and leaps his way around this relationship, somehow celebrating their destructive means of survival, leading to a supremely tedious break-up-to-make-up climax that's pulled directly from a sitcom. Mackenzie and Hall never provide a reason to care for Nikki's cracked heart, and Kutcher's single expression (something between stoner and sleepy) is hardly going to create the swell of poignancy "Spread" is itching to convey in the final act.
The AVC encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) impresses with its ability to preserve the decadent L.A. nightspots and architecture wonders without sacrificing a deep color scheme that emphasizes costumes and neon. Shadow detail is agreeable, opening up the evening sequences to closer inspection. Skintones feel natural, while facial detail is discernible, with minimal enhancement detected. Obviously, outdoor scenes are stunning, with the sun-blasted cinematography served well by the BD treatment.
The TrueHD 7.1 mix here is lively when it chooses to be, creating tremendous atmosphere for the elaborately staged club sequences, with enveloping beats and chatter filling in the surrounds. Dialogue exchanges are never obstructed, nicely preserved even during the film's many soundtrack stops. Said music is certainly loud, but appropriate and never distorted, adding more dimensions of mood to the picture.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
A feature-length audio commentary with actors Ashton Kutcher, Margarita Levieva, and Anne Heche is exactly what one might expect from a performer-only track. It takes some time for the talents to warm up, and the conversation hits a few dead spots, but the participants manage to hit a few notes of interest, especially when discussing the psychological aspects of the story -- expanding on ideas that are never properly conveyed in the film. There's nothing here that demands a listen, and it adds only a minor sliver of clarity to the "Spread" educational experience. The track is for fans only.
"Urban Sprawl: Los Angeles in 'Spread'" is a picture-in-picture track, providing a commentary from set decorator Beth Wooke and production designer Cabot McMullen. Backed by ample visual assistance, the pair look to explore the citywide magic of the picture, intending to make Los Angeles the unofficial star of the picture. It's a fascinating journey of city secrets and filmmaking struggle, as the cast and crew worked overtime to make "Spread" feel authentic.
"Living the Dream: The Making of 'Spread'" (16:10) is the routine promotional tool, with on-set interviews looking to summon the wonderfulness of film production. Crammed with traditional proclamations of admiration and ample film clips, the featurette is best enjoyed as a chance to spy some nifty BTS footage of the cast and crew during the work day.
"Behind the Scenes with Ashton Kutcher" (5:44) expands on the BTS norm, using Kutcher's charms to survey his involvement in the film and his relationships with cast and crew.
"The World According to Nikki" (3:53) is a very off-putting, in-character featurette with Kutcher as Nikki offering the viewer tips on the proper L.A. player lifestyle. I'll give Kutcher the benefit of the doubt, but something tells me there's some truth behind the silly voice.
A Theatrical Trailer is also included.
The supporting cast should really own "Spread," but they're wasted, playing second fiddle to Kutcher's nudity and the film's band-aid parade of tuneless alternative songs. A spitfire like Anne Heche is left with nothing to do, boiled down to a vaguely lonely woman who allows Nikki to walk all over her in exchange for...absurd mental abuse? Their relationship is never expanded or explained, with little fragments of story and reaction left to cover for entire subplots. The shortcuts are maddening, but so is "Spread" as a whole. Just because the lead character is an insipid, mean-spirited waste of time doesn't mean the movie has to follow suit.