The Butterfly Effect

on January 23, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
Unexpectedly, perhaps, "The Butterfly Effect" is actually an interesting--if at times flawed--cinematic application of the titular chaos theory, first described in 1972 in a paper that wondered whether the single flutter of an insect's wing in Brazil could ultimately cause a tornado in Texas. The idea is that a complex system, such as weather, relies on an underlying order, and a very small event, such as the flapping of a butterfly's wing, can affect it in very complicated ways--but there's no way to predict what the outcome will be.

Evan (Ashton Kutcher) puts this theory to the test when he discovers as a college student that he can travel back in time to pivotal moments in his life by re-reading his old diary entries. There's an added layer of mystery here in that since childhood Evan has experienced periodic blackouts during times of intense stress--instances that turn out to be his entry and exit points in his time travels. When he goes back to his hometown to look up his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh (Amy Smart), their encounter has disastrous consequences, and Evan decides to experiment further: Can he re-inhabit his body as a boy and change what's occurred in the past to prevent what's happened in the present?

The results at first are humorous: Evan wakes up in bed with his dream girl, only in this alternate reality, they're active members of Greek society on campus--his arch enemies in his previous life. The scenario raises further interesting questions about how the course of our lives--what we do, what happens to us, who we associate with--affects how we turn out as adults. Here he's the polar opposite of his previous self.

But, once again, tragedy strikes, and Evan chooses yet another point in time to make an adjustment that will hopefully allow he and Kayleigh to carry out the final sentence of a fairytale. It's a losing battle, obviously, and ultimately, in a satisfying twist, Evan has to sacrifice his idea of a happy ending in order to achieve one at all.

Upon contemplation, it's clear that writing-directing team Eric Bress and J. Mackey Gruber, who wrote the also entertaining yet slightly flawed "Final Destination 2," have crafted a carefully constructed script and in the end answer most of a viewer's questions, except for that disturbing drawing of a massacre that he makes as a child. There's also a subplot about the physical toll Evan's experimentation is taking that seems superfluous except as a plot point to get him into the loony bin and wondering whether it's all in his head after all.

Kutcher is perfectly serviceable in his first dramatic role after stints on TV's "That '70s Show" and in one-note laffers "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "My Boss's Daughter." It's unfortunate that Kutcher's off-screen antics have overshadowed this foray, which he also executive produces.

Meanwhile, his alter egos Kevin G. Schmidt, who plays Evan at 13, and Logan Lerman, who portrays the character at seven, look uncomfortable, especially when required to achieve something dramatic, though they grow less awkward in their respective roles as the film progresses. And Kutcher's co-stars, especially Smart and Elden Henson, give finely nuanced performances as four manifestations of the same character. Starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Ethan Suplee and Elden Henson. Directed and written by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. Produced by Chris Bender, A.J. Dix, Anthony Rhulen and JC Spink. A New Line release. Supernatural thriller. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use. Running time: 113 min

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