Spread (2009)

Crimes 

  • Giving contemporary audiences the lobotomized, half-assed Shampoo quasi-remake they never asked for 
  • Casting vacant, dead-eyed blank Margarita Levieva as a woman so irresistible and seductive, she causes über-hunk Ashton Kutcher to reexamine his vacuous playboy ways 
  • Asking audiences to be emotionally invested in a romance between an empty, superficial glorified gigolo and an empty, superficial, dishwater-dull glorified prostitute

Defenders: Star/producer Kutcher, female lead Levieva, and supporting player Anne Heche 

Tone of commentary: Kutcher is famously excitable and overly caffeinated, yet he sounds exhausted and mildly dispirited on the Spread commentary track, as he alternates between dull production details, bad jokes, and pretentious actor blather. Levieva is giggly, possibly intoxicated, and awkward, while Anne Heche plays the role of the doddering, mildly saucy aunt before excusing herself with the words, “I know most people have a nanny, but I don’t, so I need to go tend to Addy for a second.” And to think, people imagine Hollywood actors are out of touch with the lives of most Americans! 

Kutcher’s research for the role seems to have consisted largely, if not exclusively, of reading Neil Strauss’ pickup-artist exposé/celebration The Game. He’s kind enough to share the fruits of his labors: We learn that would-be lotharios should adopt some sort of flamboyant sartorial flourish that renders them unforgettable to potential conquests, like a foam cowboy hat. That’s why Kutcher’s character rocks suspenders; that’s the kind of detail that’s tremendously important to actors, and meaningless to everyone else. We also learn that a good pickup move is to pretend to try to set up a potential conquest with a buddy; that way, the woman in question will be intrigued and view the faux-wingman as a challenge. This all seems utterly irrelevant, since it’s achingly apparent that Kutcher’s character’s seduction strategy begins and ends with “Look like Ashton Kutcher, take off shirt frequently, and don’t say anything that might distract from looking like Ashton Kutcher.”

The commentators recorded their deep thoughts in different locations, which gives the commentary a conference-call-from-hell vibe and a pervasive awkwardness. This is especially true of the more-or-less wall-to-wall sex scenes, which reduce the commentators to childish giggling. Occasionally, Kutcher offers up a surprisingly interesting factoid. For example, he spoke with Warren Beatty to prepare for the role. The older actor said he played every sex scene in Shampoo as if his character was impotent and dreading inevitable disappointment. Does this make up for 100 minutes of bad jokes and boring stories about a film even its producer and stars seem to have difficulty mustering enthusiasm for? No, it does not.

What went wrong: Kutcher stresses throughout that the film was shot on the cheap and had to “steal” locations whenever possible. There was seldom time for more than two takes, which helps explain the highly variable quality of the acting. During a sequence where Kutcher’s character boasts that he’s an incredibly attractive man, Heche jokingly asks whether Kutcher wrote that dialogue himself. Kutcher not-so-jokingly suggests he did, conceding that some of it was the result of what he deemed a post-production “collabowrite” with screenwriter Jason Hall, designed to “fit the story that we were telling.” (As opposed to the story of the founding of the state of Delaware, or the Falkland Wars.)

In a refreshing bit of candor, Kutcher says of his primary challenge in the film: “How do you make a guy rootable who’s such a jerk? I don’t know if I pulled it off.” Hint: He didn’t. Kutcher also complains that a sequence felt too 16 Candles to him, and didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film. 

Comments on the cast: Kutcher says acting opposite so many incredible actresses made him feel like he was in an “amazing pinball machine.” When Levieva is introduced, Heche creepily intones “beautiful” twice. After spotting Kutcher’s Che Guevara belt buckle, supporting player Maria Conchita Alonso gave him four books about how the revolutionary icon was, in her words, “not a nice man.” Shockingly, they went unread so Kutcher could devote more time to consuming The Game.

Inevitable dash of pretension: Hal Ashby’s Shampoo is trotted out as an influence several times (big shocker there), and Kutcher and Levieva talk about the metaphorical significance of the film ending with a frog devouring a mouse. See, it’s because Kutcher is a frog that might turn into a prince. Or it’s a callback to a party scene featuring a prince, or an illustration of the Darwinian nature of Los Angeles, or some similar bullshit. 

Commentary in a nutshell: Kutcher: “Everybody wants to be a porn star until you have to be one.” Alternately, Kutcher during a sex scene: “Awkward! Let’s talk about baseball. Let’s talk about grandma!”

Filed Under: DVD

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