And the award for best movie of January 2004 goes to "The Butterfly Effect." Hey, it could have been worse; I kind of enjoyed this movie and I wasn't ever expecting to enjoy a January flick. Alas, one can only enjoy a tunnel-vision-plot for so long, and 113 minutes is much too long for this kind of film.
It opens with a full-screen placard that teaches us the Chaos Theory: A butterfly flapping its wings in Asia could result in a typhoon halfway around the world. Or something to that effect; everyone and critic I ask says it a little differently and I forgot exactly how the film phrases it. No big deal though, the movie has nothing to do with Chaos Theory or the butterfly effect, but rather the time machine effect on your 5 closest contacts; no one else.
The story begins with our main character Evan Treborn whom we see at three different stages (Logan Lerman-8 John Patrick Amedori-13 Ashton Kutcher-present) in life, if that doesn't already give you an idea of how much this film is going to flip-flop and break continuity.
Our movie deals with four children whose lives are not which we would wish to partake in, unlike, say this month's "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!". What these kids put up with is why this film is dark and not for minors. Evan suffers from a severe disorder hereditarily passed down by his incarcerated father that clouds his mind and causes random blackouts. Upon awakening, Evan has no recollection of what happened.
His mother (Melora Walters), having seen this before in her husband, has Evan examined by a psychiatrist who practices out of one of those movie mental institutions that would probably make a person more frightened than rehabilitated. His doctor tells Evan to keep a journal so he can record his daily events as a second-brain for when his biological one fails him. Hopefully he'll remember the lost events by reading his journal.
Evan's best friend Kayleigh (Sarah Widdows-8 Irene Gorovaia Amy Smart-present) had the worst childhood. Her father Mr. Miller (Eric Stoltz) produced kiddie porn in his basement and used Evan and Kayleigh as the stars when they were children. Kayleigh's surly brother Tommy (William Lee Scott-present) was sadistic as a child and got into fights and the torturing of animals. Lenny (Elden Henson) is the other friend; a sad and overweight kid easily influenced by Tommy and the pressures of society.
So as you can imagine, this bunch doesn't turn out too stable post-adolescence. Evan has gone off to college where he majors in psychology, and according to one his professors will ''change how we humble scientists view memory assimilation.'' (2002 horror-moviegoers may recall "Wes Craven Presents: They" in which the lead female character also majored in the subject of her childhood nightmare.)
But as quickly as we learn about Evan's successes, the blackout episodes return which prompt him to examine the journal he kept as a child. It's too bad his doctor never read his journal otherwise the atrocities he suffered as a kid would have been exposed. Reading about such horrible events he doesn't seem to remember inspires him to visit his old friend Kayleigh in hopes that she will tell him all the things his mind blocked out.
Unlike Evan, Kayleigh never pursued higher education, and now works at a truck-stop restaurant. To illustrate how hard her life is, we -- along with Evan who observes outside through the window -- see one of the customers putting his hand on Kayleigh's rear while she's bussing another table. She looks shocked at first but then smiles awkwardly as if to show us her succumbing to her miserable life. Evan approaches after her shift to see if she can be of any help, but she only questions why it's been so long since he's visited her.
Bad things happen as a result of his visit. Evan wants to change the past. He reads his journal. He goes back through time and corrects something that happened. Fast forward to present. New memories from the decades of his new life rush into his brain. He gets a nasty nosebleed from the shock. Because of the butterfly effect he finds out life is different. But life is worse. Wash, rinse and repeat several times.
After the 5th transformation and nosebleed and the same tragic consequence only to a different person each time, we begin to lose interest in the movie. Each time he reads his journal is another chance to rewrite his life, but he can never tweak it perfectly. Life gets better for Kayleigh but worse for Lenny. He goes back to make life better for Lenny, but it winds up putting his mother in the hospital.
Some of the transformations include Kayleigh going from sorority girl to prostitute, Evan from frat boy to prisoner in a population full of homosexual skinheads (oxymoron?), and Evan from healthy man to….oh you'll see for yourself.
The story continues to change so often that my mind almost wandered into other things, like the famous Simpsons Halloween Special episode where Homer goes back into time and dramatically changes the future after accidentally sneezing on a dinosaur.
But perhaps the most disturbing part of the film isn't what happens to the characters, it's surprisingly listening to these young kids curse like sailors and interact with others (young Evan lectures Kayleigh's father on why he shouldn't make kiddie porn in a scene that just doesn't work).
The main problem above all others however is the continuity errors. Evan supposedly gets a life's worth of memories crammed into his brain every time he transports back to present day reality, yet near the beginning of the film he appears clueless and unaware of his surroundings. What, I'm a frat boy? As a brother, he knows the Greek alphabet by heart but doesn't know the difference between a "rush" and a "pledge".
It kinda' goes like that the first couple of times he makes the transformation, but later in the film when the plot requires the pace to pick-up, he gets used to his new life quicker and easier. Other questions come to mind like how is he able to remember his multiple past lives when the other characters can't?
I've always liked Ashton Kutcher (though not all his movies) and I think he's got a shot at serious acting. He still doesn't look very comfortable in this type of role and critics will always be hard on him as the forever will be on Ben Affleck. Amy Smart proves she can be more than just 'the girl' in films like "Road Trip" and I expect to see her in more projects. Together they almost make this film work, but the limited premise can only be taken so far before it becomes repetitive and redundant. When we get to the end of the film, we wonder if Evan makes the right choice, but at the same time we are too anxious to leave the theater to put any more thought into it.
It's a shame because the first half is truly enjoyable, full of suspense with a creepy atmosphere, but it can't maintain that level. Maybe if Evan only went back in time once and had to run his life all over again but from a new perspective, perhaps it would have been more exciting. But his ability to go back and forth so many times quickly kills the effect of the butterfly; who cares what happened because you can just change it back.
The film was co-written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, the collaborators of "Final Destination 2," a horrible sequel to the likable original. Though I can't quite recommend "The Butterfly Effect," it's nice to see filmmakers make such an improvement. Let's hope for the same from the creators of "Torque."