January 19, 2004

The Butterfly Effect

The King of the Goofballs, Ashton Kutcher, wants you to know he's more than just a guy that yells a lot on his "That 70s Show" T.V. show or the guy who "punks" people on MTV. In the sci-fi/adventure/love story THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, Kutcher's character, Evan, is a disturbed guy who has been prone to irregular black outs since he was a child. Well, they're not so much black outs as they are lapses in memory. He's been friends with a girl named Kayleigh (played as an adult by Amy Smart) since they were little kids, and thanks to her twisted father (played by Eric Stoltz), she grew up fated to fail in life. Evan's father lives in a mental hospital suffering from on unknown disease that drives him to think he can somehow shift time. The film's early scenes of the kids (who also include Kayleigh's disturbed brother Tommy and Evan's best friend Lenny) have sort of a STAND BY ME quality to them. The children see and do things kids shouldn't have to go through. A misadventure with a large firecracker in mailbox results in the death of a woman and her baby. Kayleigh's father decides to use his video camera and some of the kids in despicable ways. All of these events shape who these people will become later in life.

As a means of coping with his screwy childhood and at the advice of his mother (Melora Walters), Evan begins keeping journals of every major event in his life, a practice he continues through college, where he seems to be a great student and little social life. While reading his journals from childhood, Evan suffers a jolting vision of a part of his childhood that was previous blocked out. The vision inspires him to go back to his hometown to visit Kayleigh, whom he hasn't seen since his mother moved them away shortly after the firecracker incident. But when Evan finds her waitressing at a local diner and brings up the video camera story, the dredged up memory causes Kayleigh so much pain she kills herself. This may sound like I'm giving you story spoilers here, but such is not the case. All of this happens before the half-hour mark in THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT.

The shock of Kayleigh's death trouble Evan so much that he wishes he could go back and change the past. He recalls the incident with his journals, and he tries to think back to the exact point in his life where Kayleigh could be saved from her father, reads that part of his journals, and Whomp! he's sent back in time inside his young body but with Evan's grown-up mind (kind of like BIG, but without the humor). Evan changes the past and when he brings himself back to the present, everything has changed. But each time Evan screws around with the past, some unforeseen new event screw up the lives of himself or one of his three friends even force than the original timeline. So Evan has to keep digging out the journals and going back to another place in time to cure a different ill. It soon becomes clear that Evan's childhood blackouts occur exactly where his future self injected his mind into the younger version of him. I know, I know. It all sounds incredibly confusing, but while you're watching it, it makes sense...sort of. Actually a few things don't make sense. If Evan was able to change his life at certain points, wouldn't his journal entries have changed as well? They don't seen to. And is it plausible that no matter what track his life takes, Evan basically hangs around the same three people all the way through college? Apparently the guy doesn't get out much no matter how his life progresses. And yes, his father's mental illness does play into the scenario. Big shocker there.

Writers-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (the writers of the fun FINAL DESTINATION 2) have piled so many layers of time into this movie, I think the presumption is that no one watching could possibly keep track of everything going on or their believability. And in a lot of ways, it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the film. Maybe the biggest problem with BUTTERFLY EFFECT is seeing Kutcher in a few choice ultra-serious situations. I found myself laughing at the most inappropriate times mainly because I was waiting for Ashton to start cracking up. There's one shot of him crying while sitting in a wheelchair and he has stubs for arms that are sort of pointed in funny angles. I almost lost it. I couldn't help it. A stub-armed Ashton Kutcher is funny! So sue me. And don't even get me started on the sequence set in prison where Kutcher offers himself up as a prison bitch to some skinheads. Oh man, that was a scream.

But I laugh because I care, and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT works more often than it doesn't. There are a few choice scares near the beginning. I like how each jump in time turned every character into a different version of themselves, sometimes good and successful, sometimes completely screwed up. I particularly like Amy Smart's scarred hooker persona. Very convincing. Just don't strain yourself thinking to hard about the film's logic. It won't hold up, trust me. THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is a real crowd-pleaser for people who like to turn their brains off when they go to the movies.

Posted by sprokopy at January 19, 2004 10:21 PM