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BUTTERFLY EFFECT, THE (director/writer: Eric Bress/J. Mackye Gruber; cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonette; editor: Peter Amundson; music: Michael Suby; cast: Ashton Kutcher (Evan Treborn), Amy Smart (Kayleigh), Eric Stoltz (Mr. George Miller), William Lee Scott (Tommy), Elden Henson (Lenny), Ethan Suplee (Thumper), Melora Walters (Andrea Treborn), Logan Lerman (Evan at 8), John Patrick Amedori (Evan at 13), Nathaniel de Veaux (Dr. Renfield), Cameron Crigger (Tommy Miller at 8), Irene Gorovaia (Kayleigh as a child); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Chris Bender/A.J. Dix/Anthony Rhulen/Lisa Richardson/J.C. Spink; New Line Cinema; 2004)
“This is not your typical absurd time travel fantasy film: it’s much worse.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is not your typical absurd time travel fantasy film: it’s much worse. It’s filled with psychological gimmicks and pseudo science and bad movie making techniques, all combined to make it one chaotic mess. It tells about memory loss due to blackouts and loses itself in that theme. There’s a jarring noise and a spiraling flashback whenever the earnest shaggy-haired Ashton Kutcher character, Evan Treborn, attempts in his unconscious state to remember the past and change his life to overcome his horrible memories starting from when he was eight. A dumb premise (maybe borrowed from New Line’s Frequency) that has Kutcher as now a bearded college psych major suffering from blackouts, as he tries to change the sordid events that ruined his life and his friends’ lives.

The team of writer-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber are responsible for this horror show in their directorial debut; they also wrote Final Destination 2, another loser with a wild premise. The filmmakers half-heartedly shovel into this lazily drawn bogus sci-fi type of story some hot button topical issues such as child abuse, incest, and mental illness. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this, but you should get a big headache if you stick around and watch this laborious nearly two hour film until its conclusion. It might be good to know for those who have not seen it yet, that you can walk out anytime after 15 minutes have elapsed and not have missed a single important development to the story.

The film picks up with Evan as an 8-year-old, as his concerned teacher confronts his harried nurse mom (Walters) with a violent drawing her son handed in for a project. This results in a visit to the shrink (de Veaux), who also treated his father incarcerated in a mental institution. The shrink advises he keep a journal, because medically there’s nothing wrong. A visit to his violent dad, results in an unprovoked attack on him and while being restrained the guards kill his father. There’s also a pervert friend of the family (Stoltz), who has his daughter Kayleigh pose nude with Evan while Kayleigh’s jealous brother Tommy is forced by his dad to leave the room. Tommy as a result turns into a sadistic kid who hates Evan. When Evan turned 13 the brother and sister are joined by friend Lenny, who is goaded by Tommy into putting a lit stick of dynamite into a neighbor’s mailbox. It explodes blowing the mother and her infant to pieces, as they go for the mail while the four children stood around and watched failing to warn her. Carrying on with this ‘how horrible childhood could be’ theme, sicko Tommy ties Evan’s pet terrier up in a canvas bag and sets it on fire.

Through use of a plot device that has a hole as big as the Atlantic Ocean, Evan discovers that he can change things that happened by traveling back to the past by reading a few lines from his childhood journals (this far-fetched technique isn’t even attempted to be explained as to why it should work). But in reading from his journal Evan experiences something traumatic and after a nose bleed, he can change his behavior and that will alter how things turn out later on. The title is a reference to the chaos theory about a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world and possibly causing a typhoon in another part of the world.

If all these tragic events weren’t enough to tax your patience, Evan experiences more of the following: life as a mean-spirited frat brother while dating sorority sister Kayleigh (Smart), having his arms blown off in the mailbox explosion revisited, ending up as the prize package for neo-Nazi homosexuals when just arriving in prison for killing Tommy in self-defense, learning waitress Kayleigh committed suicide because he reminded her of the childhood incest, and visiting Kayleigh who is a facially scarred washed-up prostitute living in a dump.

The film drums into us that fixing the past is not an easy thing to do, as it creates more major problems each time something is thought of as fixed. The film splutters on in this inert mode until it fixes a conclusion it can live with, as it ends as unimaginatively as it was throughout. There’s plenty of absurdity to get your hands on, more than anything that requires even a passing thought. By the time it tries to clear the slate and return to reason, I lost track of all the rubbish unloaded and was just glad it was over and I could erase it from my mind as if I never saw it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”