“How can you trust a man who wears a belt and suspenders? Man can’t even trust his own pants.” These words of wisdom, uttered by Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West, might have saved the women of Los Angeles from the scourge of Ashton Kutcher’s heartbreaker in Spread. Strutting around in designer casual that threatens to slide off his lean frame—hence the belt and suspenders—Kutcher plays a professional cad who’s somewhere between Warren Beatty in Shampoo and a Bret Easton Ellis character. He’s ingratiating and slightly pathological, using his metrosexual beauty and expansive repertoire of pick-up lines to bed the wealthiest, hottest single women he can find. It’s almost like he’s leasing a lifestyle, paid for by his charm, and discarded once he get bored or his temporary partner tires of being exploited.
If nothing else, this is the role that Kutcher, the callow sex object of his generation, was born to play. Though his swaggering confidence occasionally slips into cartoonish preening, Kutcher does well suggesting a shallow con man who isn’t out for money—he’s actually poor and homeless—but for as much sexual and material pleasure as the city can give him. The opening half finds him running a con on Anne Heche, a rich businesswoman who’s all too happy to make him a kept man in her gorgeous home in the Hollywood Hills. (She claims the home once belonged to Peter Bogdanovich, who, like Kutcher, has a thing for ascots.) Even after Kutcher violates Heche’s trust, they tentatively continue an intimate “friendship” that gives him status and her orgasms aplenty.
Then, after holding out as long as it can, Spread finally evolves into a movie about the redemption of a cad, and that’s when it takes a definitive turn toward blandness. When Kutcher meets his female equivalent in Margarita Levieva and begins to feel the emotions humans associate with “love,” the film gets lost in a glum second half that isn’t quite romantic comedy, and isn’t quite a serious meditation on trust. As in his 2003 film Young Adam, director David Mackenzie follows through on his premise with uncompromising explicitness. He also corners himself into one of two possible endings, leaving himself with a Sophie’s Choice decision: the rom-com sellout ending, or the one that’s totally unsatisfying?