The Butterfly Effect (2004) / Fantasy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, William Lee Scott, Elden Henson, Eric Stoltz, Melora Walters
Director: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
Screenplay: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
Review published January 29, 2004
The Butterfly Effect derives its name from a short story by Ray Bradbury entitled, "A Sound of Thunder" (which is coincidentally being made into a movie the same year), whereby men travel back to prehistoric times to hunt dinosaurs. In order to not alter the future, they only hunt ones that are about to die anyway, but one of the hunters is not so careful, accidentally stepping on a butterfly, and sets off a chain of events that ends up seriously altering the course of the future.
This film follows several key moments in the life of Evan Treborn, played by Ashton Kutcher (Dude Where's My Car, Just Married) in his first big non-comedic role. As a youth, Evan experienced many blackouts where he couldn't remember anything, induced by severe emotional trauma at events which included being molested, and a dare involving an explosive which resulted in a fatal accident. Evan isn't quite normal in many ways; he has the ability to transport himself back to key moments in his life just by reading the journal he has kept to recollect certain events. There, he can make changes which will alter the course of his life, causing a chain reaction that ends up putting Evan into entirely different situations when he returns back to his current age of 20-years-old. However, Evan finds that changing the past doesn't always make his present much better, causing him to have to keep rolling the dice of fate in order to, hopefully, make the world a better place for himself and the girl that he loves.
It's certainly an intriguing premise for a film, with a plot that would have made a fantastic episode of Rod Serling's classic television show, "The Twilight Zone". With a good screenplay and deft direction, it could have been a mesmerizing tale full of absorbing fantasy elements. Sadly, the writer/director team of Gruber and Bress take the darkest roads possible with the material, treading the line between fantasy and horror in much the same way as they did with their previous effort, Final Destination 2. In this fashion, The Butterfly Effect loses its entertainment value by constantly filling the screen with unsavory imagery, lifeless characterizations, and subject matter that uses its shock value to titillate above all else. Child molestation, animal abuse, murder, and rape aren't so much serious issues to deal with, rather than fuel added to the fire of Gruber and Bress's intent to exploit them for their most sensational aspects to stimulate audience reaction. Personally speaking, I found it to be quite dishearteningly sickening.
Awash in the sea of ugliness is an earnest performance by Kutcher, who does as best he can with the material, although not really a stand-out performance, and there is little chemistry between his character and his girlfriend Kayleigh, played by another comedic actress, Amy Smart (Rat Race, The Battle of Shaker Heights). If the creators of The Butterfly Effect would have played up the tragic romance elements, and toned down the gratuitousness of its seedier elements, they would have come a long way to making this a much better film. It seems Bress and Gruber just don't have an interest in trying to introduce real emotion into the mix, content to push the envelope of violence and sex to provoke interest, and in the end, deliver entertainment only for people who enjoy absorbing, complex theories delivered in the most simplistic of ways. Watch the Back to the Future 2 instead.
-- Followed by an in-name-only sequel, The Butterfly Effect 2 (2006)
©2004 Vince Leo