Dude, Where’s My Refund?

Fly far, far away from The Butterfly Effect

Josh Bell

There are so many things wrong with The Butterfly Effect that it's hard to know where to start. Take the title, for instance: It refers to the idea—born out of chaos theory—that even the smallest changes can have large consequences down the road. The standard example is of a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico and causing a hurricane in China. Science fiction writers often apply the idea to time travel, positing that changing even a small element of the past can have drastic ramifications on the present. An interesting concept, right? In the movie, writer-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber have their main character, Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher), traveling back in time to various moments in his childhood and changing events which then drastically alter the future.

One big problem: They don't use the butterfly effect. Really, the way they carefully lay it out with an epigram at the film's opening and then proceed to completely ignore the concept is astounding. Whenever Evan goes back in time, he doesn't change small things which then have large consequences; he changes important events in his life in big ways, thus changing the future in equally big ways. The few times that Bress and Gruber have Evan make only small changes, they have only immediate and direct consequences on the future, when—according to the titular effect—they should create just as drastically different a future as the bigger changes.

That's not even one-tenth of the movie's problems, though. Science fiction is all about the suspension of disbelief, but even if you ignore the blatant misuse of scientific principles, there are plenty of other things to worry about. Let's move down the marquee from the title to the star, one Ashton Kutcher. Quickly, the man's credits include: underwear model; cast member of goofy but endearing sitcom That '70s Show; star of low-rent, big-screen comedies such as Just Married and Dude, Where's My Car?; boyfriend of Demi Moore; and creator of inexplicably hot, celebrity prank show Punk'd. Kutcher is in demand in Hollywood right now, thanks to those last two items, though it's worth noting that neither of them say anything about his acting ability. The Butterfly Effect, however, does, and what it says is: "This man cannot act." It says it loudly and clearly and definitively, over and over for two hours.

Bress and Gruber give Kutcher a serious role, and he consistently fumbles it for the entire film. Evan is a tortured soul, the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a friend's father (Eric Stoltz), physical abuse at the hands of that same psycho friend, and frequent black-outs. The movie starts with extended sequences detailing Evan's unhappy childhood, and at least Bress and Gruber get some realism by casting actors just as bad as Kutcher to play the young Evan. Evan's mother (Melora Walters) is worried his blackouts will have him ending up like his father, stuck in a mental institution and raving about fantasy worlds.

After an incident with a prank gone awry, we move ahead to Evan in college, desperate to explain his missing memories. When he opens up one of his old journals, he finds that they act as a portal to the past, placing him back in his body at the time of the original blackout. Soon he's trying to set things right with Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and Tommy (William Lee Scott), the kids with the abusive father; and Lenny (Elden Henson), a victim of the group's juvenile activities. But each time he goes back and changes a key event, the future only ends up worse. The set-up takes forever, and the alternate futures just get more and more ludicrous, including a far-too-long sequence of Evan in jail—complete with pointless prison-rape imagery—and finally ending up with the beefcake star armless.

Yes, armless.

Bress and Gruber (writers of Final Destination 2) pace the movie horribly, jumping in time confusingly at the beginning, taking too long to get to grown-up Evan and the movie's actual point, wasting time on increasingly irrelevant alternate futures until building up to one hell of a let-down of an ending, and wasting any creepy and interesting potential their concept might have had. Most of the supporting cast is nearly as bad as Kutcher, though perhaps the direction and terrible dialogue are to blame for decent actors like Walters and Stoltz doing so poorly.

There is some force in Hollywood that seems determined to push Ashton Kutcher as a star, no matter what, and that strange power is what leads to films like this. Unfortunately, Kutcher has yet to make Ashton Kutcher Dates Demi Moore: The Movie, so his endless Us Weekly coverage hasn't exactly translated into quality filmmaking. Like that loud, annoying kid who just wants attention, maybe he'll go away if everyone pretends he doesn't exist. Do your part and stay away from this truly atrocious movie.

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