The International Writers Magazine: FILM REVIEW
Butterfly Effect: 2004
Written and Directed by Eric Bress J. Mackye Gruber
|Change one thing. Change everything
it is this simple act, now, which unleashes the fires of life from rock
on a far away world six hundred million years from now: the complex
genetic of beginnings reborn from the simple psychology of endings;
as if invention, or fear, or the cosmos, really knows its own course.
The epigraph to this article is from my poem called The Barber and is
an illustration of the butterfly effect. This is a belief that small
actions can have large consequences down the road, or - as popularly
phrased- A butterfly flapped its wings 60 years ago in Brazil,
and today an earthquake hit China. This nostrum was first uttered
in the 19th Century by a philosophe whose name is long forgotten, but
it is misattributed in the films opening epigraph to modern chaos
theory. The best popular illustration of the principle came from a sci-fi
tale by, I believe, Ray Bradbury, in which a future time traveler goes
back to the dinosaur age, breaches protocol by stepping out of a restricted
area, accidentally kills an insect, and is stuck in the past as human
civilization (and his time machine) never happens.
In the film of the same name TV pretty boy Ashton Kutcher portrays wannabe
genius (or psychotic?) Evan Treborn, who has supposedly inherited time-tripping
powers from his insane father. His life, at 20, is bad. The love of
his life - Kayleigh Miller (played by Amy Smart) - kills herself one
night after he returns to his hometown to find out about their past
- which includes starring in a child porno film, murdering a mother
and her baby, roasting a dog alive. She cannot take it. Grief-stricken,
Evan reads his journals and changes time.
He goes back to a moment in childhood and when he wakens Kayleigh is
his college lover, a member of a sorority, but they are stalked by her
psycho brother - Tommy Miller (William Leigh Scott) - who was a psycho
originally, but now is worse. He attacks Evan, who fights back and kills
him. Kayleigh turns on him and Evan is imprisoned for murder - despite
evidence of stalking and vandalism that would have easily cleared Evan
as using self defense. After convincing a con that he is Jesus (for
his time changing) he wills himself out of that timeline and in to another.
But no matter the permutation, someone he cares about is in really bad
shape. In one version Kayleigh is a drug-addled hooker, in another Lenny
Kagan (Elden Henson)- a childhood pal - ends up insane for he murders
Tommy to protect Evan and his dog from Tommys madness. In another
Evan loses his arms and is paralyzed, rushing to protect a mother and
child from a blockbuster the four young pals have planted in a mailbox.
This results in Lenny and Kayleigh becoming lovers, psycho Tommy becoming
a Born Again Christian, and Evans mom Andrea (Melora Walters)
becoming an emphysemic due to chain-smoking her miseries away over Evans
paraplegia. On and on Evan tries.
After a series of early scenes in which we unexpectedly see Evan blacking
out, we later find out these are the times when his later self has re-entered
his form to change things. One time its to rebuke
Kayleighs and Tommys father, George, as hes trying
to get the kids to star in a porno film. The film has logical inconsistencies
mostly due to time travel (but more frustratingly those dealing with
the assumption that Evan is nuts as a boy merely because he draws a
murderous picture- any comic book loving boy draws that and far worse!),
but more importantly just too much hammy acting. Kutcher is way out
of his league- as the boneheaded hunk Kelso on That 70s Show hes
ok, but his lack of serious acting chops shows. At times the script
seems to be dead earnest and at others comic- mostly due to Kutchers
inability to react with emotional awareness. Still, the situations are
so relentlessly downbeat that when the comic elements arise (mostly
unintendedly) I was laughing at the characters, not with them. The best
performance comes from Amy Smart who brings an ethereal presence to
her roles as Kayleigh- whether hooker or sorority queen shes fascinating
to watch for shes one of the few stunningly beautiful actresses
Ive seen in a film who do not rely on merely being beautiful to
enthrall the audience. Her face and eyes can act- not just look lovely.
The rest of the cast is good to solid.
Some people will carp over the science- wondering why does
a single thing only effect the same few people in Evans life.
Why, as example, is he not a doctor- happily married with three kids
in any of them? The reason is probably contingency- that nothing happens
in a vacuum. Not all changes will have profound effects. A little change
may bring grave consequences while a seemingly huge one alters little.
Contingency is more aptly shown in larger ways. For example, without
Edison or Tesla some other inventor would have invented incandescent
lighting within a few years after he did. The difference would be an
entry in a textbook. Precious few things are without trends or precedents.
Perhaps Evan had a desire to stay connected with his youth that almost
always led him to have the same pals in many lives? I doubt the makers
of this film know or understand that concept since they apply a comic
book like approach to the script without either graphic novel seriousness,
nor comic book whimsy.
Another objection is why can Evan recall things from lifetimes hes
wiped out? Or why does, in one timeline, Mr. Miller recall an instance
of Evans timetripping in another timeline that has been erased?
For me its obvious that the titular idea is used as mere contrivance
to tell a tale. A bolder film would not necessarily have been one that
was more logical, but one whose implications were far more grand. What
if Evan had been that Bradburian time traveler? Or willed himself back
to the classic Hitler as a baby predicament? What if he
killed the young Hitler? What if he assassinated George Washington?
Then, again, its not fair to review a film that was not.
Kudos to this film for at least trying, though. Its not nearly
as bad as most critics make out, but it could have been much more. My
wife originally wanted to see the Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston film
Along Came Polly, but I said Id rather see a film that
fails by breaking formulae than succeeds by following it. A Pyrrhic
victory, perhaps. Writers and directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
cannot be faulted for trying, but their visual style is too melodramatic,
as is their story.
The similarly-themed The Lathe Of Heaven was made into a very
effective PBS film 25 years earlier with minimal effects and a far better
story. That tale succeeded by letting us know, in the end, that the
tale was the last moment death dream of a nuclear war victim. This film
suffers because we never quite know whether this is all in Evans
head- a more rich film would have tried it, or a sci fi/fantasy- which
should have been more adventurous. Not letting us know could have only
worked were the script, acting, and visuals more intriguing- merely
shaking the camera and having the journals letters jumble just
bores. Not too mention that, for a genius, Evan is a dolt. In one of
the time trips he returns to light the blockbuster that killed a mother
and child in one reality, but now waves it at the pedophilic Mr. Miller,
and winds up killing his true love. And he does this as the adult Evan
in control of his childs body! That geniuses do stupid shit like
this is a far bigger flaw in the script than any time travel continuity
Still, the ending and last time jump eschew a Hollywood ending as Evan
returns to the first time he met Kayleigh and scares her in to never
being his friend. Years later - at 28- the two are successful New York
professionals, pass each other on the street, look, but keep on walking.
This ability to sidestep convention augurs potential for the duo, for
not caving in to the expected and ending the film a la It's a Wonderful
Life. Amy Smart has all the makings of future stardom, but Ashton
Kutcher is probably doomed to a future in reality TV as a former tv
star. If thats the future he faces he can always avenge his legacy
and screw the rest of us by stepping on another insect- just for spite.
© Dan Schneider Jan 26th
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