Butterfly Effect, The
January 22nd, 2004
I'm the last critic around to demand total logic from the films I see (where's the fun in that?), but "The Butterfly Effect" is a pretty hard motion picture to swallow. The experience is not helped by the filmmakers, who have little interest in developing characters or narrative coherence, and have been forced to give Ashton Kutcher his first big dramatic role - which he bungles without much effort.
Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher, “Just Married”) has spent his whole life dealing with an usual and violent brain disorder which causes him to blackout in moments of extreme anxiety. Now in college, Evan is confronted with past traumas that bring him into contact with Kayleigh (Amy Smart, “Rat Race”), an old friend from his childhood whom Evan left behind just when she needed him the most. When Kayleigh reacts destructively to his intrusion into her world, Evan tries to manipulate his disorder to travel back into his past and alter pivotal moments from his childhood to create a positive present for himself and his loved ones. Evan soon learns that shaping an ideal present is next to impossible, and with each attempt, he sinks deeper and deeper into madness.
“Butterfly Effect” is one tough film to classify. It’s one part dusty “Twilight Zone” leftovers, another part time travel bonanza, and finally a blatant attempt to allow Ashton Kutcher room to stretch his dramatic muscles. “Effect” is a science fiction movie with “science” that is blurry at best, and completely devoid of logic at its worst. And the fiction? Well, there just aren’t enough clearly defined plot threads to help this messy enterprise, leaving a tedious, drifting, hopelessly dull motion picture experience.
“Butterfly Effect” takes its title from standard chaos theory; using the example of a butterfly who gently flaps its wings in one part of the world, creating the potential for a monsoon somewhere else on the globe. Take that example and place it in the realm of a lovesick character using his ambiguous powers to travel through time to fashion a perfect relationship, and you have a fairly respectable concept for a film. I’ll freely admit that “Effect” had me at one tiny point with its storytelling cheats and overdramatic performances, but unremarkable directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber aren’t certain where to take their story, or even where to start it. Using the DOA storytelling device of opening the picture with the climax and working backwards, it’s obvious that this filmmaking duo won’t be much help in dishing the narrative out properly. For those like me, who require something more than nonstop shrieking sound effects and Kutcher’s various partings of his long hair to create a swirling portrait of a man who cannot stop messing with time, “Effect” falls pitifully short. The film just simply drops the audience into the action, with little interest in explanation or even a desire to have fun with its bizarre concept. “Effect” drags on for what seems like 99 years, increasing its smoke screen on proper transitions and character development as Evan goes deeper and deeper into his psychosis.
Making his first real step into dramatic acting, Ashton Kutcher might want to think twice before trying this whole crying/looking determined thing out again. A well honed comedic actor, Kutcher is less sure footed when “Effect” needs a talent of decidedly more range. Granted, the screenplay and the editing take large chunks of what Kutcher was most likely trying to achieve with this role and flings them to the four winds. But in certain scenes, when the film rests squarely on Kutcher’s every move, he falters struggling to dig deep within himself and explore the rich moral dilemmas presented by the story.
Since the film never truly begins, to stay interested in what occurs to Evan is a painfully labored journey that I simply cannot recommend. The similarly themed 2001 film “Donnie Darko” is a much better take on the time bending mysteries of the brain, and far more worthy of hard-earned dollars.
My rating: D-