The Butterfly Effect (2004)

reviewed by
Laura Clifford


A teacher insists that young Evan Treborn's (Logan Lerman, "The Patriot") mom (Melora Walters, "Magnolia") come into the school to see what Evan drew the day before. when queried 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' Evan produced a sophisticated rendering of a boy wielding a bloody knife atop pile of corpses, which he claims to not remember doing. Mrs. Treborn puts her child under psychiatric care, where it is suggested he keep journals and that his blackouts are stress-related. Years later in college, Evan (Ashton Kutcher, "Just Married") starts to go through his journals and begins to get hints of what happened. A visit to his boyhood sweetheart Kayleigh (Amy Smart, "Scotland, PA") to unlock the past so upsets her that she commits suicide and Evan, using his journals as a time travel tool, goes back to change their history. But each of his attempts cause different disastrous results - he's setting off "The Butterfly Effect."

Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, the screenwriting team behind "Final Destination 2," make their directorial debut with this earlier script. Their last film proposed that fate frustrated would prevail with a series of Rube Goldbergesque Grand Guignol set pieces and the results were slick and grotesquely funny. "The Butterfly Effect," however, uses a series of disturbingly dark events to spin off story threads that become more and more hysterical and the results are sickening and silly.

Evan's blackouts are caused by the pedophilic behavior of Kayleigh and her brother Tommy's dad, Mr. Miller (Eric Stoltz, "Pulp Fiction"), Tommy's acting out against what he's witnessed - a dangerous prank that results in two deaths that push Evan's best friend Lenny into mental illness and the vicious killing of Evan's dog, and a visit to his insane dad who recognizes his own affliction in Evan and attempts to kill him. Evan revisits each trauma and effects a change, but upon getting 'Back to the Future,' the history that has unfolded in the interim finds Kayleigh a junkie prostitute, or himself a murderer in a high security prison. The more disastrous Evan's predicament, the more eager he seems to be to jump back in time and mess things up some more.

The idea behind the butterfly effect is that if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, it can set off a hurricane on the other. Bress and Gruber do get points for keeping their parallel plot lines pretty airtight (and steering clear of a happy ending), but they never attain the proper balance between the savagery with which they treat their child characters and some of the idiotic dialogue and actions of their adult ones. Scenes in Miller's 'movie set' basement and shots of a squirming sack doused with gasoline make one queasy, then the directors introduce the junky Kayleigh delivering putrid dialogue like 'If I knew you were coming, I would've cleaned the stains off the sheets' or Evan making inane comments to a pitifully withdrawn Lenny (Elden Henson, "Manic"). The writers put much of their stock in psychiatry, but ignore developmental behavior theory, making the adult Evan a sneering preppie or self-pitying martyr at will. They're even more reckless with Tommy (William Lee Scott, "Pearl Harbor") who is alternately a violent thug or born again Christian based upon the same 7 and 13 year old ordeals.

Kutcher cannot get his grip on this material, with hysterical reactions that dip into the laughable, He's OK in scenes with Smart who is more capable creating distinctly different versions of the same girl all rooted in events of the past. The adult Tommy and Lenny are little more than game pieces, but young Jesse James ("Blow"), who portrays sociopathic thirteen year old Tommy, is chilling. Lerman is too cartoonish in the 'trauma revisited' scenes, but John Patrick Amedori does a good job portraying Evan as a quietly troubled teen as does Irene Gorovaia as the middle Kayleigh. Ethan Suplee ("Blow") is entertaining as the adult Evan's roommate Thumper, an obese goth with sex appeal, although the script underutilizes him. The chameleon-like Waters is strong as the young worried mom, but one wonders why she is never given the role of confidant in Evan's adulthood. Instead, she's treated much the same as Scott and Hensen. Stoltz is brilliantly cast as the creepy Miller, conveying evil intent with a swirl of the Scotch in his glass.

Technically the film owes most of its trickery to director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti ("2 Fast 2 Furious"), who makes the words in Evan's journals dance, fractures his present like a breakaway set and color tints his alternate realities. Production designer Douglas Higgins ("Serpico," "Needless Things") gives the film an overall drab and dreary look. Composer Michael Suby provides a subtly effective score.

"The Butterfly Effect" is an intriguing concept (the title has been used before, in a Spanish production), but as executed by the "Final Destination 2" guys, it's an unpleasant and overlong experience.


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