dir David Mackenzie
scr Jason Dean Hall
prd Jason Goldberg, Ashton Kutcher, Peter Morgan
with Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche, Margarita Levieva, Sebastian Stan, Rachel Blanchard, Maria Conchita Alonso, Sandra Buxton, Ashley Johnson, Sonia Rockwell, Shane Brolly, Eric Balfour, Hart Bochner
release US 14.Aug.09, UK 1.Jan.10
09/US 1h37
Pretty people: Heche and Kutcher

blanchard balfour mackenzie
SUNDANCE FILM FEST edinburgh film fest
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Spread Beautifully shot but strangely earnest for what it is, this movie strains to stand alongside such iconic L.A. stories as American Gigolo or Shampoo. But the film feels even more superficial than its characters.

Nikki (Kutcher) is a smug womaniser who turns on the charm to get wealthy women to take care of him. He's thoroughly loving the mountain-top house and expensive car of his latest conquest (Heche). Meanwhile, he's also pursuing a waitress, Heather (Levieva), for no real reason at all: is it because she's playing hard-to-get or is Nikki really falling for her? But it becomes increasingly clear that Heather is playing the same game Nikki is.

There's an intriguing idea here, as this vacuous man is thrown for a loop when he meets his female counterpart. But the screenwriter doesn't know how to set up encounters or make them pay off, resorting to a lame rom-com plot device (the impulsive plane trip) at one point. The more we learn about them, the less convincing their lives become and, in the end, the revelations unravel the premise entirely, leaving us asking questions that have no answers.

This general implausibility extends to the photogenic performances as well. Kutcher effectively portrays a guy with no morals and no guilt, but comes unstuck when Nikki illogically develops a schoolboy crush. This leaves his smiley charm looking vacuous and predatory--who would fall for that?--and it removes the chemistry from every encounter. Even more troubling is the way his hollow realisation of what's "truly important" is so moralistic and fake.

This is an extremely odd misstep for Mackenzie, who has always made films with fearless integrity. It's as if the gleaming surfaces (which shimmer in Steven Poster's wide-screen cinematography) gnawed away his nerve. More likely it was the Hollywood money-men that urged him to reduce the sex into anti-erotic, cable-style soft-porn and casually sidestep any serious themes the script approached. It's only in the final shot that some black wit finally emerges. But by then it's too late. American Gigolo and Shampoo, and stronger, edgier films like Morrissey's Heat and LaBruce's Hustler White, are still the ones to see on the subject.

cert 18 themes, language, strong sexuality 23.Dec.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall