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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Butterfly Effect (review)

Awful Thing X

These movies, they just make it so damn easy. Do they realize that? A pseudohorrorific, semipsychologicamical flick about going back in time and erasing the bad things that’ve happened? About fixing the world and making it right if only you can prevent Awful Thing X from happening? About getting your memories rewritten so that you’ve always lived in a world where Awful Thing X never happened? Gosh, the reviews practically write themselves: My life was fine and dandy until I saw that Ashton Kutcher movie, oh if I could only rewind my life to the moment before the lights went down, I could save the world! Or if I could go back in time and prevent Ashton Kutcher’s agent from being born, and then my brain would be flooded with memories of an Ashton Kutcher-free multiplex!

Ah, sweet, sweet fantasy.
It’s not that Ashton Kutcher isn’t scary — lord knows, with that blank stare and the gaping maw and the smooth, shiny robot skin, he’s the stuff of cinematic nightmares. It’s that he’s not scary in any way personally enjoyable to me. Look, he’s supposed to be this guy with the power of, like, life and death and the fate of the universe in his hands or head or whatever, and the most he can muster up in response to this awesome power is a dull stupefaction, kind of like the look a cow gets in its eyes, I would imagine, when it suddenly realizes why it’s been dreaming of styrofoam plates and plastic wrap.

There’s no explanation from writer/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (they wrote Final Destination 2; yes, someone wrote Final Destination 2) how Kutcher’s (Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married) Evan Treborn is able to quantum leap back into his past self just by reading his childhood journal. But that’s okay, even if it is a cheap-ass ripoff of Jack Finney. If Kutcher could convey any sort of hint of how it, you know, feels to change the past and save the people he loves only to have it come around and bite him on the ass time and again, some of the nonsensical idiocies of the film might be forgivable. But he instead lets his nosebleeds do the acting for him. See, his brain gets so overloaded with all these new memories every time he quantum leaps that his brain is getting scrambled and some of it comes out his nose.

Again with the movie writing its own reviews: So bad my nose bled!

Bress and Gruber just keep piling the badness on in this sci-fi melodrama of unintended consequences, but they’re quite limited in their imaginations. They “quote” “Chaos Theory” in the beginning of the film, like there’s one succinct and quotable definition, or perhaps as if Chaos Theory were some pipe-smoking, tweed-jacket-wearing Cambridge scientist, but that’s beside the point: If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America can cause a hurricane in Hong Kong, then shouldn’t something as exponentially more drastic than that — say, Ashton Kutcher traveling back in time to turn his childhood pal Kayleigh (Amy Smart: The Battle of Shaker Heights, Scotland, PA), from one iteration of his life to the next, from a weary greasy-spoon waitress to a golden sorority chick to a beat-up junkie prostitute — have slightly more enormous consequences? Like, shouldn’t Evan leap back into a time where the Nazis won WWII or the South won the Civil War or dinosaurs still roamed the Earth? Okay, not really… but there are no consequences beyond Evan’s little circle of acquaintances? I think Rod Serling would have something to say about that — he could’ve given us way cooler unintended consequences in a mere 30 minutes, never mind two hours.

Maybe Evan is just moving too fast for the unintended consequences to catch up with him, because Bress and Gruber jam so much into a single day of Evan’s life that it leaves you kinda breathless and giddy with their lack of a sense of how many hours there are in a day and just how much even the most ambitious human being can pack into the time between breakfast and dinner. Evan and his pals blow up a mailbox and get traumatized and run around panicking and race home and call an ambulance and see one of their gang carted off to the looney bin and Evan goes to see his shrink cuz he blacked out during the exploding mailbox (an unintended consequence of quantum leaping) and has a frightful session including nosebleed and he and the gang (sans Nutjob Boy) go to the movies and talk about what happened with all the deep insight and retrospect acquired over the distance of time and Evan’s Mom sees a news report about the blown-up mailbox and picks him up from the movies and asks him about what happened and says We’re moving. And though the sense has been that all this is happening over a matter of perhaps weeks, at the end of the sequence you suddenly realize that this has all been in the same day. It gets so that by the end of the film, you’re almost suspecting that the last scene will have a little subtitle that reads “Later that day…” even though Evan’s adventures in temporal engineering have occurred over something like 20 years.

Oh, but I kid The Butterfly Effect. As far as awful acting and bad writing and cheesy melodrama go, this is some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen in ages. I never thought I’d find Ashton Kutcher hilarious, and now I do.


MPAA: rated R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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