BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004)
Directors: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
Everyone has moments in their lives that they'd like to have a second chance at. Maybe you'd make an attempt to keep the girl that got away. Maybe you'd take the job that would lead to fame and fortune. Maybe you'd skip school on the day two psychos in trenchcoats turn the school into their own personal firing range, or miss the flight that ended up crashing into a skyscraper. But what if you could actually go back in time and take the path you hadn't gone before? Would that path lead you somewhere better, or would you end up somewhere worse than where you started? That concept is the basis for the sci-fi drama The Butterfly Effect, an exercise in chaos theory that not only looks at the past being altered, but the consequences of such changes and the effects they can have on the present.
Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) is a college psychology major that, via a series of unexplainable blackouts, has repressed a number of traumatic childhood memories. While reading one of the journals he kept in his youth, he's jerked back into the past and experiences one of his repressed memories. When he asks his longtime friend and girl of his dreams Kayleigh (Amy Smart) if she remembers what happened in his flashback, she ends up getting extremely offended by Evan bringing up the demons of the past and runs away. If somebody you hadn't talked to in a few years showed up where you work and asked you about your pedophile father forcing you and your friends to do kiddie porn, you'd probably be a wee bit offended too.
Anyway, Evan discovers the next day that Kayleigh killed herself after their talk, and he begins to delve deeper into his journals. He soon learns that by concentrating on individual journal entries, he can will himself into that page of his life and relive the moments he'd forgotten. He decides to use his newfound power of time travel to go back to his repressed memories and change the way things went. The only problem with his plan is that with every time he changes something in the past, he returns to a present that is nothing is like he remembered it. Something inexplicably worse happens after even the most insignificant of changes, yet Evan continues to return to his youth and attempt to repair his mistakes until he can finally set things right.
The Butterfly Effect is quite an experience. Drawing inspiration from the Ray Bradbury short story A Sound of Thunder, in which a time traveler drastically changes the future after accidentally squashing a prehistoric insect, the entire movie is centered around the eternal question "what if?" What if we could go back and stop something awful from happening? What would be the consequences, both good and bad, of our actions? The movie can understandably grow confusing thanks to the numerous jumps between time periods and the ripples that they create, but it works. The story is very gripping, and the actors make sure to grab the viewer and retain their interest. Many thumbs up to the writer/director duo of Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber for crafting such an intricate story that showed more than a glimpse inside the human psyche.
The extremely well-crafted script by Bress and Gruber was made all the better by the fine cast. For someone seemingly typecast as a goofball thanks to That 70's Show, Dude, Where's My Car?, and Punk'd, Ashton Kutcher proved himself to be a great dramatic actor too. Sure, the main focus was on how the supporting cast was affected by his actions, but Kutcher was the glue that held it all together. The supporting cast was also stellar. Amy Smart had to play the adult Kayleigh in a multitude of roles (ranging from down-on-her-luck waitress to well-to-do sorority sister to sleazy crack whore), and did a great job in each scene. Ethan Suplee is fine as Evan's headbanger roomate Thumper, while Eldon Henson has a few intense scenes as the adult version of Evan's best friend Lenny. Each of the child actors nailed their roles as well, with the standout among them being Jesse James (no relation to the cowboy or host of Monster Garage) as the teenage version of Kayleigh's psychotic brother Tommy. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he's a serial killer in training. He's that convincing. Meanwhile, I'm starting to think Eric Stoltz is being typecast as sleazy characters. He was a drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, he was a college professor that trades oral sex for passing grades in The Rules of Attraction, and he's a child-abusing pedophile here. I wonder if Marty McFly would have been some kind of deviant in Back to the Future if Robert Zemeckis hadn't replaced him with Michael J. Fox.
As good as The Butterfly Effect is, it essentially equates to a two-hour display of the crappy things in life. There's child pornography, suicide, mental illness, violence involving children (both committed by and against), and animal cruelty all graphically displayed for everyone to see. It's a hard-hitting drama that makes us look at things we don't usually want to see, a grim reminder of just how messed up the world is. The Butterfly Effect is a drama quite different from the kind I'm used to seeing. But with great production value, a stellar cast, and a haunting melancholy score (composed by Michael Suby), The Butterfly Effect gets four stars and a recommendation.
Final Rating: ****