Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott, John Patrick Amedori, Irene Gorovaia, Kevin G. Schmidt, Jesse James, Logan Lerman, Sarah Widdows, Jake Kaese, Cameron Bright, Eric Stoltz, Callum Keith Rennie
Written by: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
Directed by: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/22/2004

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Flick of Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Normally in these dog days of January, we get half-baked movies that waste the potential talent of the people involved. But how's this for a refreshing change? The Butterfly Effect is a good starting point for a movie that could have been even better if not for the lackluster efforts from those involved.

It begins with a fascinating idea. As a child, Evan Treborn begins experiencing blackouts during which his life continues but he can't remember what happened. The blackouts occur at both innocuous moments and at crucial ones, such as visiting his sick father in an asylum, or waiting for an explosive to go off in a neighbor's mailbox. As a grown-up, Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has licked the blackouts. He's now at college, learning all he can about the human mind so that he can become a scientist specializing in memory. But when he re-reads his diaries that he's kept since age 7, he suddenly finds himself transported back to the empty spots -- the spots in time that he'd missed. Now not only can he view these events for the first time, but he can change them as well. When he returns from his reveries, he's in an entirely new reality. In various alternate universes, his three best friends Kayleigh (Amy Smart), Lenny (Elden Henson) and Tommy (William Lee Scott) wind up by turns happy or psychotic or even dead. Each time Evan is unsatisfied with his new results, he goes back again to change them.

The screenplay by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (Final Destination 2), who also make their directorial debut here, has its share of holes. Any intelligent viewer will find at least one flaw that will drive them nuts. For me, it's when Even -- reincarnated as a fraternity brother -- goes to jail and does hard time for a manslaughter that could easily have been tossed out as self-defense. The film also needed an amazing ending, something worthy of O. Henry or that "Simpsons" episode in which Homer creates a time machine out of a toaster and keeps altering his universe. And the movie does have a good spot for that, but it blunders forth and wrenches out a happy ending for us.

Kudos to Bress and Gruber on their directorial debut, but what The Butterfly Effect really needed was a veteran director -- one who could not only help iron out the story's logic, but also attract a more heavyweight cast. These four roles call for actors who can run the gamut, playing down-and-out as well as up-n-perky. Kutcher and Smart are both cute and fun, but don't have the required range. Consider David Fincher's Seven -- a film that Evan and his friends go to see as kids -- and the great performances by its cast of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey. Those acting chops raised Seven from a routine thriller to a bizarre classic. By those same standards The Butterfly Effect comes across as lazy. Indeed, Kutcher can't make us believe that he's a brilliant student any more than he can keep from being unintentionally funny in certain scenes. But all grumbling aside, The Butterfly Effect packs a very effective punch, especially during its early scenes. Sure, none of the kids sound like real kids when they talk, but the presentation of Evan's blackouts as violent punctures in time definitely make your skin crawl.

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