- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Last weekend’s mediocre performance by “A Lot Like Love” at the box office spared us — sorry, girls — from the sight of star Ashton Kutcher in his undergarments.

The tabloid target promised he would appear in a Calvin Klein underwear ad campaign if his movie ended up at the No. 1 slot. It landed hard at No. 4.

So, will we also be spared from more movies featuring the would-be Mr. Demi Moore?

Mr. Kutcher is hardly the first actor to try to ride a plum television gig or, in his case, two — Fox’s “That ‘70s Show” and “Punk’d” on MTV — to a successful film career.

But how many swings and misses will he get before the next TV actor gets his turn?

Mr. Kutcher’s resume to date is packed with stiffs, from the nearly unreleased “My Boss’s Daughter” (2003) to the newlywed comedy “Just Married” from the same year. His current race-based comedy, “Guess Who,” is still lingering in the box-office top 10, but it’s a modest hit at best and has Bernie Mac’s brilliant slow burns to thank for the funny trailer.

“A Lot Like Love,” a very poor man’s “When Harry Met Sally… ,” is limping along, earning a paltry $7.6 million in its premiere last weekend.

Careers shouldn’t be measured by box office alone, but Mr. Kutcher’s work is hardly redeemed by artistic merit. Admittedly, the tall, dark and handsome star possesses a knack for playing against his God-given looks. On the small screen, that’s more than enough to get you an ensemble comedy gig.

Film, however, is different. Watching Mr. Kutcher attempting to play a budding businessman in “A Lot Like Love” is akin to seeing a little girl try on her mommy’s pumps.

Yet range isn’t the first, or even the 45th, word that comes to mind when assessing his acting chops.

A better bet for big-screen success appears to be Topher Grace — his fellow co-star from “That ‘70s Show” — whose awkward comic stylings have boosted recent films such as “P.S.” and “In Good Company.” He is an actor with promise, although he has had starring roles so far in just three films.

It’s possible the Hollywood power brokers believe Mr. Kutcher’s tabloid drawing power will translate into ticket sales. His Mrs. Robinson-style relationship with Miss Moore has made him a gossip-page fixture, for better or worse.

The only time that his celebrity spilled over into movie ticket sales was with 2004’s “The Butterfly Effect,” a negligible thriller that pulled in a surprising $57 million despite modest marketing and an unknown cast.

If tabloid notoriety translated into box office appeal, then Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson and Tonya Harding would’ve been movie stars. If Mr. Kutcher wants to become one, he’d better hone his acting skills or stick to roles that don’t require him to play anybody other than himself.

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