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SPREAD

Dir. David Mackenzie
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche
U.S. Release date: Aug. 14, 2009

Bodies Being Bodies

Review by Diego Costa, from Paris

Spread is Ashton Kutcher's missed chance of evolving from Alpha Male prankster to Alpha Male twitterer to cult actor. This butchered fable of boulevards of broken dreams embraces every cliché on the guidebook, when all it had to do was seize the most obvious of them all - the objectified star.

Kutcher plays Nikki, in a role usually reserved for women, which involves having sex with the opposite sex for room and board - and the occasional Hermès shirt. When women do it, they are called whores; when Ashton Kutcher does it he is a "womanizer."

The Los Angeles of Spread is the Los Angeles of the collective unconscious: a playground for all things ersatz, a Las Vegas for the long-term. "Dream and nightmare inextricably meshed together," said Jérôme Momcilovic on his review of the film (which has the much better title "Toy Boy" in France), a "blooming shop window for the decadent and the terminal of America." Life consisting of driving someone else's convertible, partying at someone else's penthouse, sleeping at someone else's bed: fucking everyone, owning nothing but borrowing everything. The epitome of the society of consumption: disposable disguises for disposable selves. Never stopping, never reflecting, always postponing, always projecting. Personhood reduced to the body as the only thing one has to offer. The body as both meat and (faux-) silver platter.

One doesn't have to be Judith Butler to realize these aren't just the rules of LA-on-film, but the rule of "women" as merchandise whose exchange makes the real world go around. The concept of the movie is interesting exactly because it flirts with idea of the male body as consumable good, even if so timidly.

This is not the first time LA plays stage to a role-reversal game of the oldest profession on Earth, except that when Bruce LaBruce did it in Hustler White (1996), he went all the way, fetishizing Tony Ward's body the way only an impotent voyeur could. In Spread, Kutcher's torso isn't really hidden, but his butt somehow elicits laughter from the audience. He is more unabashed buffoon than objectified muse. In fact, this is precisely where the film stops being an interesting concept and falls victim to the same old rules of formulaic Hollywood comedies. The camera is never quite comfortable treating Kutcher as an object, as if he could somehow be both merchandise and customer, as if the heterosexual male body were immune to complete objectification. No matter how used, it always has enough agency in it to never lose control.

Spread tries to feature Los Angeles as one ghost-character casting its shadow on all the other players in the room. While LaBruce's Los Angeles felt claustrophobic and fatalistic in an organic and subtle way, director David Mackenzie's LA is constructed via Kutcher's sometimes witty, often forced, voiceover narration. But Mackenzie fails to fetishize even the city, quickly bringing in a barrage of attractive women and Hollywood clichés to claim LA's turf.

While LaBruce's Los Angeles sun scorched its characters into uncontrollable hedonistic behavior (from bloody back-stabbing to consensual gang-raping), Mackenzie's Los Angeles 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.



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