Ashton Kutcher doesn't bother denying his boy toy reputation, and he doesn't mind playing it to his advantage. He's even promising to strip down and model underwear if he gets what he wants -- big-screen credibility in romantic comedy.
Kutcher hits theaters today with "A Lot Like Love," his second romantic comedy this year. Critics hammered him pretty hard for "Guess Who," but that movie opened at No. 1 at the box office last month. Now he's promising something special for a repeat performance.
"If we are the number-one movie in America, I will do a Calvin Klein underwear campaign," Kutcher told Access Hollywood earlier this week.
Maybe Kutcher is just setting up another prank for his hit TV show "Punk'd." Then again, the 27-year-old comic, oft derided as Demi Moore's boy toy, came to New York eight years ago as a male model, and he's already worked the catwalk for Calvin Klein.
Kutcher has always been an easy target for critics. Maybe it began with his airhead persona on "That '70s Show." Maybe he'll never be forgiven for "Dude, Where's My Car?"
Nevertheless, Kutcher's entire career has been a series of unlikely successes. Back in 1997, he was sweeping up Cheerios dust at a General Mills factory in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for $12 an hour. He had dropped out of the University of Iowa, where he was studying biochemical engineering, to become a male model.
Kutcher won the "Fresh Faces of Iowa" modeling contest. He was brought to New York, and less than a year later, he was cast in one of Fox TV's top comedies.
Now, after being repeatedly dismissed as a joke, he doesn't mind playing that to his advantage.
"I like being nude as often as I can get nude," Kutcher says, joking with reporters at a press event for his new film. In the movie, he and Amanda Peet begin a seven-year, on-again, off-again affair after meeting on an airplane and having sex, before even knowing each other's name.
But Kutcher also wants to undercut his beefcake image. "I'm not like the guy in my movie," he says. "I'm pretty shy about that initial conversation."
Hollywood gossip hounds still have trouble coming to terms with Kutcher's relationship with Moore, 15 years his senior. In the early days, some said it was just a publicity stunt. Then they said it was just a fling.
But now, Kutcher and Moore are celebrating their second year together -- a near miracle in the world of celebrity.
If Kutcher really is a shy guy -- and of, course, he might just be saying that to further endear himself with his legion of female fans -- he wouldn't be a lot unlike the big screen personas of Ben Stiller and other comic leading men. Certainly, "Guess Who" has been likened to "Meet the Parents" by generous critics, if not dismissed as an out-and-out rip-off.
"A Lot Like Love" draws from the same well as "When Harry Met Sally." In their slow-developing relationship, Kutcher and Peet go from college grads to late 20-somethings, slowly realizing that their lurid moment in a cabin restroom might really be love at first sight.
Say what you want about Kutcher's films -- and most of them have been derided mercilessly -- the guy isn't afraid of taking professional chances.
Nobody expected Oscar-caliber performances from "Dude, Where's My Car?" but it did respectably enough to predict a safe future in low-budget stoner comedies. But just as he parlayed "That 70's Show" into "Punk'd," he's persevered to make it as a big-screen actor.
The initial results weren't encouraging. "Cheaper by the Dozen," "Just Married" and "My Boss's Daughter" did nothing more for Kutcher than earn him a triple Razzie nomination in 2003. Luckily for him, Ben Affleck took the dubious award for bad acting that year, thanks to his performance in "Daredevil."
Undeterred, Kutcher took his biggest gamble last year, playing it straight in "The Butterfly Effect," a science fiction flick in which he repeatedly relives grisly moments from childhood.
This tragic take on Billy Murray's "Groundhog Day," netted more bad reviews. Still, it opened No. 1 at the box office, proving that Kutcher's audience hadn't given up on him.
Now, with the success of "Guess Who" -- its $58 million box office take is more than any of his other films -- it's clear Kutcher isn't going away anytime soon. He's already signed off "That 70s Show," although he'll continue with his MTV show.
And if Kutcher is just playing the part of the shy guy when he talks about doing love scenes, he's getting enough practice, at least, to sound more convincing. He recalls one not-so-easy-to-film scene in the new movie in which he and Peet are frolicking in a national park in their birthday suits, part of the reason the film earned a PG-13 rating.
"I think we were both like so insecure about ourselves that we weren't busy looking at anybody else," he says. "We were on a stage though, so we weren't actually outside, so I think that kind of helped."
Chalk it up as another great sacrifice on the road to immortality.