Sometimes a brilliant idea is wasted on an average film, which is unfortunately the case with “The Butterfly Effect”. The movie possesses an incredibly imaginative concept, but can’t manage to translate it into a consistently engaging movie. Much of the film’s weakness lies in its lead actor, who shows he doesn’t have the ability to play a strong dramatic lead.
The film derives its title from the Chaos Theory, which states that the wing beat of a tiny butterfly can cause a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean. Essentially, even the most miniscule events have catastrophic consequences. That is the case with Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher), whose blackouts mask traumatic childhood memories of sexual abuse and violence. Evan soon discovers that he has inherited the ability to travel back in time from his mentally ill father. Using this ability Evan goes back in time to alter events in order to change the future of his loved ones for the better, but despite his best intentions the results are always disastrous. He winds up facing a dilemma: how does he repair the damage he’s caused without making things even worse?
The script by co-writers/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackeye Gruber (“Final Destination 2”) has a smart and inventive premise that seems to be influenced by the works of Harlan Ellison and Jack Finney. Especially nifty is the method by which Evan uses to travel through time — by reading his old childhood journals and traveling back to the day of the entry. Also commendable is the film’s lack of gore; by not fully showing violent incidents onscreen the audience is left to imagine the worst. Sadly the rest of the film isn’t as innovative. The first half is oppressively dark and gets needlessly bogged down in Evan’s horrific childhood memories. Midway through, the film suddenly becomes bleakly enthralling when Evan discovers his gift and tries to alter the past. Unfortunately all that is betrayed by the denouement, which feels tacked on.
The cast plays their roles adequately, but the standout is Eric Stoltz (“2 Days in the Valley”), whose sinister pedophile manages to appear trustworthy while conveying a sleazy undercurrent. Also excellent is Amy Smart (“Road Trip”) as Evan’s childhood love. Smart does an amazing job playing the same character but in radically different alternate realities. Whether she is a sunny co-ed or a jaded prostitute, Smart is always utterly convincing.
But one of the major deficiencies of “The Butterfly Effect” is lead actor Ashton Kutcher (“My Boss’s Daughter”). When playing Evan as a fraternity brother or a wiseass psychiatric patient, Kutcher looks comfortable and excels. Unfortunately he looks out of his depth when he’s required to play his character straight, and as a result he comes across as stiff and forced. Definitely a gifted comic actor, Kutcher simply lacks the skills to play a strong dramatic role and the film suffers greatly because of this inadequacy.
Another plus is the film’s gloomy and scary look, which accentuates the nightmarish events that are occurring onscreen. The score however isn’t particularly noticeable, and contributes little to the experience. If the filmmakers had used elevator music instead, they probably would have gotten the same effect. The editing is also a bit jarring, mostly with Evan’s blackouts. While the editing was probably done to convey Evan’s feelings of fear and disorientation when emerging from his blackouts, it can be migraine inducing to anyone watching. The lighting is also nicely done; things are bright and sunny when Evan’s life is good, and moody when there is trouble brewing. It’s a nice subtle touch that adds to the film.
“The Butterfly Effect” is ultimately a brilliant but tragically flawed film. The filmmakers have announced that an alternate director’s cut of the movie will be released on DVD. Hopefully, they will be have corrected the film’s shortcomings.
Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber (director) / Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber (screenplay)
CAST: Ashton Kutcher …. Evan Treborn
Melora Walters …. Andrea Treborn
Amy Smart …. Kayleigh Miller