Back in 2004 Jude Law reprised Michael Caine’s role of Alfie, a philandering, serial monogamist who consumed girlfriends at a disturbing pace without any regard for their emotional well-being. Now it’s 2009 and Ashton Kutcher has decided to take a stab at a similar yet more devious role in the movie Spread. He plays Nikki, a good-looking man living in Los Angeles who willfully exploits his appearance for financial purposes. From the very first scene Nikki schools the audience via narration on the art of being a playboy. He doesn’t present his theories as mere suggestions, but rather as stone cold absolutes ("There’s only one pick up line, everything else is cheese." "You need 26 points for them to trust you. After that you can go back to watching football." Etc.).

Just think NYC Prep’s PC all grown up and looking to score and you have a fairly good idea of who Nikki is. He also approaches being a man whore as a business, and that’s a good thing because as the film opens he is unemployed and homeless. Soon he hooks up with Samantha (Anne Heche), a rich older woman in search of a man who can provide her with sexual favors. For the first half of the movie things are looking pretty good for Nikki. He moves into Samantha’s gorgeous home and starts living the good life right along side her. But as Alfie and countless others have discovered, you can only use and abuse for so long before the jig is up as the idea of abandoning all emotion in the name of free love works much better in theory than in reality.

In the lead up to the release of Spread, the amount of sex it contains has earned it the most publicity. The movie truly is raunchy to the core. Sex is shown, in graphic detail, taking place on the table, in the tub, in the pool, in the bed, etc, etc, etc. But in doing so, director David Mackenzie unintentionally pushes his film into a long line of others that have tried to sell tickets by loading up on sex only to do an about face and eventually lecture the audience on the perils of sleeping around. Also working against Spread is the fact that porn and the like is widely available and highly specialized on the world wide web these days so people really need more than that to venture out of their comfy apartments. Luckily it has a crackling, super smart script by Jason Dean Hall that fully grasps just how sticky modern urban relationships can be. Hall, not content to just take another lovesick gigolo to task, fills his work with thoughts and meditations on wealth, appearance, Los Angeles, loyalty and just how slippery the concept of reality really is.

Most impressive is the work done by Ashton Kutcher. Always good but never one to challenge himself, here he takes on the role of Nikki and finds a man who is mostly despicable but does contain a few traces of humanity. In the later part of the film Nikki’s leopard tries to change his spots and settle down with fellow emotional gamer, Heather (Margarita Levieva). As they go from enemies to lovers to friends we watch as Nikki’s life unravels and thus he begins to mature emotionally. Kutcher seems more than comfortable carrying the film and his charm and confidence are infectious. As sadness begins to finally seep into Nikki’s life he finally realizes that not all women can just be treated as disposable without consequence. This is all pretty insightful stuff for what is, essentially, a soft-core porno flick starring Ashton Kutcher. A few missteps prevent the film from being great (too often the plot is advanced by people taking phone calls at very inopportune times), but all in all Spread is far better than you ever would have imagined.

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche, Margarita Levieva, Sebastian Stan

Director: David Mackenzie

Runtime: 97 Minutes

Distributor: Barbarian Films

Rating: R