- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

“The Butterfly Effect” takes as its bombastic inspiration the theory of chaos, how one little tug or tweak on the fabric of time can have scary, unpredictable consequences.

I know, I know; that’s not what chaos theory actually is. I’m simply trying to explain a premise here.

But before we get into all that — oh, how I really, really don’t want to — I’d like to share with you a few choice lines from this movie’s star, the inimitably, ineffably, incomparably imbecilic Ashton Kutcher.

Picture him, reader, acting with the hard concentration of a youngster on his first two-wheeler and delivering the following lines: “If I can determine how the memory of a simple worm functions, that should help me understand the complexity of the human brain.” (Er, yeah, right. You go, Dr. Kutcher.)

“You can’t hate yourself just ‘cause your dad’s a twisted freak.” (Thanks for the consolation.)

“I’ve completely reprogrammed my brain.” (That can only be an improvement.)

“I think Jesus put me in your cell for a reason.” (Good. Can Jesus promptly release me then?)

And my absolute personal favorite, a line that the VH1 network will unearth 20 years from now in its “I Love the Aughts” series: “How can somebody get away with this right in front of the frat house?”

There are many such moments in “The Butterfly Effect,” but none received more laughing-at-you-not-with-you chuckles at the screening I attended than the scene of Mr. Kutcher roving crazily down the corridor of a mental institution.

Now, if you must know, here’s what this woolly psychological thriller is about: Evan Treborn (Mr. Kutcher, plus a pair of younger actors) is a bright but troubled young student at an upstate New York college. When we meet him in the present, it’s been seven years since he last experienced a blackout. (We glimpse a few episodes in flashback; they conveniently occur just before crucial plot points are about to take place.)

Through some miracle of mind power — summoned by the reading of old diaries — Evan is able to rejigger his past. Writer-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, who paired as scripters on the macabre thriller “Final Destination 2,” tell us Evan risks painful relapse because he loves Kayleigh (Amy Smart, plus another pair of younger versions), his childhood crush.

Midway through an endless string of trips into the space-time continuum, it becomes clear that Messrs. Bress and Gruber are too busy reveling in their crazy-cool notion of chaos theory to follow through on a love story.

You see, when Evan revisits the past, in the vehicle of his 7-year-old self, the events of intervening years unspool in catastrophic new directions: A demonically behaved boy turns into a born-again Christian, for example; the chunky dude who gets picked on comes out, alternately, as a murderer and a stud.

History toys with Kayleigh in ways even more grotesque and tragic. And Evan himself: He’s dragged through a series of ridiculous set pieces, including a frat house, a prison and a bathetic spell as an amputee. In other words, Ashton Kutcher is asked also to be a character actor.

Does he surprise? Put it this way: I always knew he never had it in him.


TITLE: “The Butterfly Effect”

RATING: R (Violence, including several graphic beatings; profanity; sexuality; nudity; brief drug use; disturbing intimations of child pornography)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti.

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes.


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