It’s impossible to discuss an Ashton Kutcher film without bringing up the off-frame persona of cyberspace’s most avid egotist. In fact, one has the sense that Kutcher is never off-frame, infinitely spewing his hyper-hetero babble through any media platform that will host it. Spread, a pretentious meditation on the dream-making and shattering powers of Los Angeles, is an unconventional choice for an “actor” so used to embodying alpha-male misogyny. The film could have been Kutcher’s vehicle for redemption, as it flirts with placing Aplusk in a position he doesn’t normally occupy: an object. Kutcher plays Nikki, a hustler so good at knowing what women want that he can use them for transportation, room and board, and the occasional Hermès shirt.
In Hustler White, another film about a hustler embodying Los Angeles’s pretty face and rotten, self-serving intentions, Bruce La Bruce turned Tony Ward into a mesmerizing, glistening body that evoked the fundamental themes of the movie. But Spread is ultimately more concerned with diegetic twists and turns than with social commentary, or even aesthetics. Too shy to allow Ashton’s body to bear its ideas (nothing is not for sale in the city of angels), Spread falls victim to the old rules of Hollywood comedies, hauling in a barrage of sexy women (including a gorgeously cougar-ish Anne Heche, in sane mode) ready and willing to be all body all the time.
While Ward’s naked bloody torso helped make Hustler White‘s point, Kutcher’s nudity often elicits laughter from the audience. He is more unabashed buffoon than objectified muse. The camera never quite consummates its predatorial teasing. It is never comfortable treating Kutcher like a desirable thing, as if the heterosexual male body were immune to complete objectification. No matter how used, it could never lose complete control.
The Los Angeles of Spread is the Los Angeles of the collective unconscious: a playground for all things ersatz. Life here consists of driving someone else’s convertible, partying at someone else’s penthouse, sleeping in someone else’s bed, owning nothing, and honing one’s skills at the art of having fun. Personhood is reduced to the body as the only instrument one has to deal with the world, the only attribute one has to offer. Hence its perennial state of display.
While LaBruce’s Los Angeles sun scorched its characters into uncontrollable hedonism—from bloody backstabbing to consensual gang-raping—the Los Angeles of Spread is peopled with those who show up for life already knowing its script—and its backstory. Which makes them predictable and paper-thin. And a de facto paper-thinness isn’t as interesting as a pretended one, for we all know there has got to be some flesh behind all that plastic.