Originally created 01/23/04

At the Movies: 'The Butterfly Effect'



Very few movies have made me want to get up from my seat and leave the theater. "The Butterfly Effect" is one of them.

And it's not even Ashton Kutcher's fault, though he's an easy target - the "Dude, Where's My Car?" dude asking to be taken seriously in a dramatic role.

Besides serving as one of the film's executive producers, he plays bearded, flannel-clad college student Evan Treborn, who goes back in time by reading his old journals in hopes of reversing his wretched childhood.

What Evan finds there is gratuitously disgusting: memories of molestation and brutal animal abuse, among the traumatic events that seem shocking for shock's sake. And because he returns to his past repeatedly, we're forced to watch all this over and over, with slightly varying results each time.

I kept hoping this would turn out to be one of Kutcher's elaborate "Punk'd" pranks - that the cameramen would pop out from behind the scenes, laughing, and that this attempt at drama/sci-fi/whatever would all be a joke on us.

It wasn't, but that reminds me - for fans of the MTV series, especially younger fans who deify Kutcher, "The Butterfly Effect" is probably inappropriate. It's certainly inappropriate for fans of film.

Kutcher himself isn't bad. Sporadically, the co-star of the Fox sitcom "That '70s Show" even shows glimmers of his trademark goofy enthusiasm - like when one of Evan's tinkerings with time turns him into a frat boy, and he takes a sort of wild-eyed glee in hazing the pledges.

The title of the film, co-written and co-directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, comes from the chaos theory - that a butterfly could flap its wings in Brazil and cause a tornado in Texas.

Evan seems to have a similar effect when he reads the horrific details in his old diaries, which he kept to jog his memory after suffering chronic blackouts. His words jumble and jump off the page, then everything around him gets loud and chaotic, and poof! He's back seven years ago, or 13 years ago.

He tries to save his longtime girlfriend, Kayleigh (Amy Smart), from her eventual suicide, his beleaguered mother (Melora Walters) from cancer and a childhood friend (Elden Henson) from a life of depression. Usually, though, his attempts at retroactive redemption lead to someone else's misfortune.

It's standard time-travel stuff - imagine "Time Bandits," without the dwarves or the twisted sense of humor (or the talent, come to think of it).

The film's philosophical and psychological twists won't leave much of a lasting effect - they didn't on me at least.

What stuck with me was the image of Evan's childhood dog, a scruffy white terrier, being placed in a burlap sack, tied up with rope, doused with lighter fluid, then set on fire. The whole sequence is totally unnecessary - it doesn't further the plot, it doesn't help us understand Evan better.

It's enough to make me want to flap my wings and go back in time before I saw "The Butterfly Effect" - then not see it.

"The Butterfly Effect," a New Line Cinema release, is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use. Running time: 113 minutes. One star out of four.