Dude, where’s my diary?
After a stretch of goofy comedies, Ashton Kutcher makes the switch to drama with The Butterfly Effect, a time-travel thriller that eschews science-fiction blather in favor of psychological melodrama. One can just picture the Kutcher bashers with their nine woods, set to tee off with their pre-prepared, dumb-ass Demi Moore jokes and various slags on his sure-to-be-terrible acting.
This is not to say that Kutcher is the finest actor, but he does turn in some decent work for this preposterous and admittedly entertaining film. As Evan, a college student who discovers a way to travel through time and screw with history, Kutcher shows that he does, in fact, have some acting chops. After That ‘70s Show and Dude, Where’s My Car?, it’s a little tough adjusting to straight-man Kutcher, but his full commitment to this crazy movie makes the adjustment doable.
The film doesn’t offer any flying cars or lounge seats with big fans as a vehicle for time travel. Evan, who suffers from a brain illness that causes blackouts during traumatizing events, uses mind power for time jumping. After seven years blackout free, he busts out some of his old journals and reads a few passages. The passages trigger a reaction that enables him to revisit his childhood blackouts, relive the moments that have been blocked, and change history.
This gimmick provides for many twists and turns, and some of them are a genuine kick in the pants. As with most time travel movies, big love is involved, and Evan’s love is Kayleigh (played as an adult by Amy Smart). Evan’s childhood blackouts include the tragic aftermath of a firecracker gag and possible sexual abuse at the hands of Kayleigh’s dad, George (journeyman actor Eric Stoltz). He revisits these moments, inhabiting his 8- and 13-year-old bodies (played superbly by Logan Lerman and John Patrick Amedori) with the mind and experience of a 20-year-old. This makes for a couple of genuinely creepy sequences.
The film’s title is a reference to the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in Peru could set off a chain of events that leads to a tornado in Texas. In the classic story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, a time traveler kills a butterfly in the past and changes the future. Evan, who has lost the childhood love of Kayleigh, seeks to change their fates through significant behavioral changes in his past. While some of the changes are initially positive, they always lead to chaos, not to mention the major nosebleeds Evan suffers after his time jaunts.
Writer-directors J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress throw everything at the wall, and not all of it sticks. A sequence where Evan’s time tampering results in Kayleigh becoming a crack whore is unintentionally funny, as is Evan’s prison stay after an initially pleasant result of time travel (Evan and Kayleigh becoming college sweethearts) turns gruesome. While some of these sequences come off as a bit silly, Kutcher and Smart don’t flinch in their performances, so the moments remain amusing.
Kutcher, who was recently fired from Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (allegedly because of paltry acting), shows he can transcend his usual goofball persona. There are moments where he seems to be struggling a bit, but given the insane nature of the role, the stretches of inconsistency blend right in.
The Butterfly Effect works as an oddball curio. Perhaps the makers were shooting for something of major depth. If so, they have failed. What they have managed to do is deliver a darkly funny, occasionally messy thriller. If not taken too seriously, it’s a good enough ride.