Movie Review #800: It’s thrilling and visceral, but ‘The Butterfly Effect’ lacks something in its execution to make it completely recommendable.
By Red Stewart
|Rated R (contains violence, drug content, sexual content, profanity)|
“The Butterfly Effect” takes its namesake from the Chaos Theory idea that small events in the past can have larger, unforeseen consequences on the future. It itself derives its name from mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz’s proposal that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could result in a hurricane weeks later.
Of course, the past events showcased in the movie are much larger than the physiological actions of a Lepidoptera, but it is played out under the same logic. Kutcher stars as Evan Treborn, a man who had a terrible childhood filled with random blackouts. As it turns out, however, those phases of unconsciousness are periods where he can go back in time via reading his adolescent diaries his doctor recommended he start doing to cope with the memory shutdowns. By meddling with the past, Treborn is able to cause radical changes in the lives of him and his friends, and thus takes it upon himself to experiment with the time travel in order to create the perfect present where everyone is happy.
It’s hard to critique a movie like this where the writing and acting do a swell job of creating this science fiction-esque setting with visceral psychological tensions. Despite being known for his work in comedy, Kutcher is surprisingly good as Evan, conveying the desperation, anger, and anxiety he feels living through each new life only to be disappointed with the final result. His co-stars Amy Smart, Elden Henson, and William Lee Scott follow suit, but what really drives home the eeriness of it all is the performances of the child stars. There are eight of them, so I won’t list all of their names, but a film that has to justify the constant alteration of everyone’s lives needs a suitable past, and these kids/teens are amazing in portraying how bleak and traumatizing the world they’re growing up in is.
Unfortunately there’s something ultimately lacking in the execution of “The Butterfly Effect” that prevents it from being as good as it can be. It’s hard to specify what exactly the issue is, but the directing/writing team of Eric Bess and J. Mackye Gruber don’t seem to have a complete grasp of what the implications are for each reality Evan creates. What I mean is, things seem too straightforward, which goes against the surreal nature the film’s premise unintentionally creates. I did praise the script for its good dialogue and scene setups, but on the downside it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for imagination/interpretation. In that regard, Bess and Gruber have trapped themselves in a corner that limits their creativity as storytellers.
There’s no doubt people will find plotholes strewn throughout the film’s timeline variations (it’s something that can hardly be avoided in this type of narrative), but they aren’t enough to make the film bad. That being said, I can’t quite recommend “The Butterfly Effect” on account of the aforementioned shortcomings with the direction, but I will say that the R-rating and pseudo-Hitchcock feel make it a thrilling enough pastime for older audiences. ✴