January 25, 2004

The Butterfly Effect

Chaos Movie

The Butterfly EffectThe Butterfly Effect
starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eldon Henson, Eric Stoltz, Ethan Suplee. Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
running time: 113 minutes
MPAA says: R for violence, sexual content, language, and brief drug use
Release date: January 23, 2004
Seen at: The Regal Gateway Stadium 16, home of the gigantic Viggo/Hidalgo poster, on a drippy rainy night. They do not like outside food at the Gateway 16. Or outside laptops. Because everyone is going to be trying to record a copy of this movie to their hard drives—if everyone is indulging in brief drug use. But I jest.

Viewer Advisory: There are furry animals in this movie, and Bad Things Happen. Close your eyes. Bad things happen to humans, too, but we moviegoers are used to that by now, especially if we've seen Return of the King half a dozen times.

Not as bad as you might think

Can Evan Treborn change the past, or is this merely wish-fulfillment, entirely in his dreams?

You can see this straining to be that sort of movie, a complex Hitchcock of a film where the audience can no more trust reality than the protagonist can, where the audience would feel the crushing defeat he does when it begins to seem that all this "changing the past" is only his imagination. Even had the trailers not made it absolutely plain that The Butterfly Effect is not the result of hero Evan Treborn's (Ashton Kutcher) overactive imagination, the movie itself leaves the viewers completely assured of what is going on as Evan scrambles to understand. We know; he doesn't know; this works for about one iteration of the five realities he passes through. A more subtle approach would have had longer effectiveness, would have built one scene upon the other rather than playing like a SciFi Channel Sliders marathon.

Logan Lerman channels AshtonKutcher's performance doesn't help. A progression through disbelief, to the realisation of his ability, to desperation, to despair, to determination, would have brought some sort of power to the entire film. Kutcher only gives us dollops of these emotions punctuating an oddly wide-flung performance. The youngster who plays Evan at Age Seven (Logan Lerman) does a bang-up job channelling Evan the Adult and infusing his dialogue with vengeance, or madness, or angry panic, as appropriate. Kutcher gets nearly entirely Fully Frontally Nude. Let each play to his own strengths.

Eric Stoltz has a pivotal but small role. Ethan Suplee has more prominent billing than his character deserves. Callum Keith Rennie is in the IMDB credits, but darned if I can figure out what role he played. Non-caucasian Doctor Character is played by... uhm... hmm. Ashton Kutcher has an executive producer credit, for what it is worth.

The chick in my row eating cheesy jalapeño tortilla chips from a plastic tub screamed in fear during some of the promos, and she made an interesting barometer for the movie. Me, I didn't think anyone ever really ate those movie-theatre nachos, but there you have it. The strong aroma of it nearly put me off my mozzarella cheese sticks with dipping sauce.

As we've seen in the trailers, one effect of mucking with time is that it does weird, irreparable damage to Kutcher's brain. (Look at me not making any comments about the state of Kutcher's brain to begin with. Oops, too late, I did.) This is apparently an inconveniently messy detail, so as soon as it isn't required to propel the plot, it disappears without explanation. Maybe the explanation is in the Extended Version Director's Cut, where it is probably provided by Dr. Exposition, who appears periodically in the Theatrical Release version to Explain Things to Evan's mom. I know, it's cruel to suggest there may be more footage of this movie, unless it's footage of when Kutcher accidentally drops his towel in the Nearly Entirely Fully Frontally Nude scene.

Science Fictionally:
Your average episode of a Star Trek franchise gives more thought to the effects of changes in a timeline. Evan sees evidence convincing him that he has altered the past in a minor way; this makes sense because he's the one who has been making the changes and who has memories of both pasts. Later, it is necessary he convince someone else, so for no particular reason, that person can see the changes, too. At least on Trek the audience would hear some technobabble about the two people standing close enough so that the temporal distortion formed a bubble around the chronosphere caused by the quantum coinpurse, and we might have gotten to hear it in Patrick Stewart's mellifluous voice or growled by Scott Bakula in his Enterprise tighty-bluies.

Reality One

Stand By MeSeven-year-old Evan (Logan Lerman) lives Someplace Nice with his single mom (Melora Walters). His dad has been institutionalised, and Mom is afraid Evan might be headed down the same path. When bad things happen, Evan blacks out, so he is encouraged to keep a journal to help jog his memories (in a notebook, as these are pre-blog days). Bad things continue to happen, first when he is seven. When he is thirteen (and played by John Patrick Amedori) two terrible events set the course of the lives of Evan and his childhood friends Kayleigh (Irene Gorovaia), Tommy (Jesse James, in a solid performance), and Lenny (Kevin Schmidt). Lenny is hospitalised; Kayleigh ends up (as seen in the trailer) being played by Amy Smart and sent to an early grave; Tommy's life has gone tragically askew. Evan grows up to be a brilliant psych student who looks like Ashton Kutcher. I guess things worked out all right for him.

An attempt at hypnosis by Dr. Exposition to help thirteen-year-old Evan remember what happened during his blackouts seemed a bad idea to me; once you've successfully escaped the 80s, why risk going back? One nice effect of the blackouts is that the audience is missing the same information as the protagonist, so we are stuck in the same confusion as he even before the past begins to change, and for a while we are feeling the uncertainty he is feeling. So far, so good.

When Kayleigh dies, Evan vows to make things right. You have to like his character for his devotion to his childhood sweetheart. When they are thirteen and she is the most beautiful thing in the world in his eyes—when she is just an ordinary looking kid with a puzzled expression and a confused, tear-stained face—he won my sympathy. And the graveyard scene is weep-worthy, I don't care what anyone says. Sniffle.

Reality Two

Evan has saved Kayleigh, but his life has taken a less intellectual road. His former college friends don't know him, and he's not the sort of person he can respect. Jalapeño Girl was a little shocked by the near-nudity when Evan runs to a bathroom mirror to see what he looks like in this timeline. The guys in the audience liked how college dorms are full of boob-displaying skinny chicks. The guys in the audience also thought abusing frat pledges is really funny, just so you know what sort of crowd this was.

Saving Kayleigh has made the lives of Evan's other friends even worse, and his rage (time-travel-related brain damage? hormones? script?) drives him to drastic measures. Okay, so Kutcher can't do sustained frustration and fear. But he has dark eyelashes. There are meant to be some terrifying scenes in this reality, playing into some guys' primal fears and anyone's feelings of degradation and humiliation. But even Jalapeño Girl giggled.

emote! darnit!Reality Three

The Butterfly Effect laughs at Evan again, fanning its wings mockingly against his reality. I won't spoil all the details, but even though Evan begins to understand the true meaning of his blackouts, he can't juggle the past in a way that makes everyone happy. I don't think it's the movie's fault his utter despair continued to elicit titters from Jalapeño Girl. Kutcher's face doesn't have sufficient muscular agility for non-comedic expression, or something.

This part of the story attempts some clever circularity which is not at all clever but did give me the sense of walking in circles.

Reality Four

Eh, I'm getting tired of describing the timelines. You could have a flip through the Sliders episode guide and pretend Jerry O'Connell is Ashton Kutcher and John Rhys-Davies is Evan's Mom. Or that Gimli is Evan's Mom. And Legolas is Kayleigh. Because I'm bored with watching Ashton Kutcher flail about trying to display a dozen emotions using only two facial muscles, and would rather look at Orlando Bloom standing around with Elf Coolness trying to display no emotions.

Reality Bites

Relying on a hitherto unhinted-at (sorta kinda) plot device, Evan learns it's all about finding the right self sacrifice. You may say "awwwww" now.

To See or Not to See

Is it a cheapie matinee? Are you hot for Ashton Kutcher and/or think he's cool? Have you never heard of Chaos Theory and want a quick primer on what it means? (Well, for that, you could visit the official website and click on some of the "Confronting Chaos" links.) Do you have nothing better to do with your evening? Are you trying to meet a goal of reviewing fifty films by the end of summer?

In the hands of a supremely good director, this movie could have been mindboggling. Try not to think about what a good film it could have been—unless you too have the ability to remake the past by thinking really hard... In which case, carry on. I'll wait.

Outside Food: Cheesy mozzarella sticks with dip. Overpowered by the smell of the jalapeño nachos, so I was safe from discovery. Also had a red fruity drink. Because I love red fruity drinks.


I thought the first preview was for Fame or American Idol, but for some reason the trailer says it's called Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, so it may actually star Lindsay Lohan as a teenage gameshow hostess who becomes a secret government assassin. Or, no, wait: who wants to be a popstar. Everyone has a super wardrobe and it looks precisely like the teen movies of my teen-era—the non-angsty ones, that is.

Dawn of the Dead: "When there is no more room in Hell..." the studio will produce a much more creepy trailer than the one showing with Paycheck. This preview made me want to see the movie. It has all the standard disaster movie characters, including a pregnant!woman, and when the populace are told to seek a safe place they run to the mall. The trailer used some fifty-year-old ideas to spook the audience, and it worked: there was only skittery laughter in the nervously silent theatre afterward.

Tonight's R-rated trailer was for Twisted from Paramount, starring Samuel L. Jackson as the Samuel L. Jackson character, Ashley Judd as the tough-broad cop stalked by a slick serial killer, and Andy Garcia. I'd give this one a chance. It looked like it could be good. Or I might have been high on jalapeño fumes.

Secret Window: Johnny Depp as a writer with a plot problem. Previously discussed with another movie. Be afraid of the black broad-brimmed hat. You don't want to piss off the Amish.

Highwaymen: Finally I get to see this trailer all the way through. A ridiculously elaborate vehicular homicide leads a pretty woman to seek help from Jim Caviezel. People run around and drive around and shoot things. Still no thigh-high boots, horses, or bunches of lace.

Posted by OutsideFood at January 25, 2004 12:00 PM

Since the site isn't updated regularly, and since the comments feature is constantly abused by spammers, Comments are now disallowed. Sorry!