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apropos of nothing

Ashton Kutcher: Cougar Lover, in Real Life and Onscreen

Photos: Getty Images, 20th Century Fox (Diaz)

Judging by its awesome reviews ("One of those junky time-wasters" —Manohla Dargis), What Happens in Vegas... won’t generate much buzz its opening weekend. But it may well go down in history as the moment when Ashton Kutcher’s career fell in line with his personal life. It’s not that the 30-year-old's man-boy persona has matured since he hooked up with Demi Moore, 46, a few years back; it's that his onscreen leading ladies have. And, in Hollywood, that makes him pretty unique.

Pre-Demi, Kutcher starred opposite women like Brittany Murphy (30), Tara Reid (32), and Zoe Saldana (29) — all more or less his same age. But as though taking its cue from his real love life, Kutcher has recently started taking roles alongside women up to twenty years his senior.

In What Happens in Vegas..., Kutcher plays your typical Apatovian guy (except not funny or believably dirty), while Cameron Diaz (35, though lit to look 85) plays a career woman itching to start a family. Later this year, Kutcher will star opposite Michelle Pfieffer (50) in Personal Effects, in which a “young man” meets “a beautiful older woman” and an “unlikely and beautiful romance blooms,” according to the film’s Website. And next year, Kutcher and Jennifer Jason Leigh (46) will star in Spread, a sex comedy about a womanizer (Kutcher) and his ex (Leigh).

What accounts for these pairings, so unlikely in a Hollywood where the opposite is so often ickily the case? (Just ask 65-year-old Harrison Ford, whose past five onscreen romantic partners have been 19, 13, 16, 18, and 27 years younger than him.) Is Kutcher, an active, producing force in Hollywood, exerting influence on the casting in these films or choosing projects specifically to endorse his own cougar-loving lifestyle? Is the cougar phenomenon supposed to empower women who can still land hard-bodied young things, even as theirs become increasingly difficult to maintain? Or is it that the only way America’s youth-obsessed audience can tolerate watching an older actress is to cast her opposite a male ingénue?

It's worth noting that the older actresses Kutcher's starring with now are almost uniformly better than the younger ones he was paired with in the pre-Demi era. And so despite how lousy What Happens in Vegas... is, we salute Ashton Kutcher — even if he doesn't have much taste in material, he does have excellent taste in co-stars. —Kari Milchman