The Butterfly Effect (R) ★★★

Review Date: January 23rd, 2004

Under absurdly extreme media scrutiny, comedic star Ashton Kutcher embarks on his first dramatic feature role. Does he pull it off? Sure--with a little help from an equally capable cast and a captivating story.


At the age of 7, Evan Treborn (Kutcher) mentally blocked out a series of traumatic life events. His mother, worried her son may have inherited his institutionalized father's mental illness, took him to a therapist who recommended the boy keep a diary of his daily activities. Thirteen years later, Evan, now a college psychology major, stumbles upon the journals and begins to read them in hopes they will somehow jog his repressed childhood memories. But when Evan gets to the details preceding the blackouts, he finds himself transported back in time, smack dab in the middle of the very events that were once too painful for him to commit to memory. Evan soon realizes that in occupying his childhood body, he can stop the unsettling events before they occur, thus rescuing himself and his friends Lenny (Elden Henson) Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and her brother Tommy (William Lee Scott), whose lives and futures were destroyed at the hands of Kayleigh and Tommy's abusive pedophilic father. But by disrupting the past, Evan also alters the present--and the outcome isn't necessarily good for everyone involved. In order to make his and his friends' lives better, Evan keeps going back in time to fix things, but each new reality he creates has a downside. Unable to get history back to the way it was, Evan must now choose--and stick with--one reality, even if it means sacrificing the one person he loves dearly--Kayleigh.


The big question on everyone's mind is whether or not Kutcher can make the big leap from comedy to drama; after all, it's been difficult enough for him to follow up on the comedy classic Dude, Where's My Car? and his latest efforts have included more than his fair share of duds, including My Boss's Daughter, Just Married and Cheaper by the Dozen. That said, his performance has always been the one redeeming feature of those films, so the guy does have talent and it's not impossible to believe that he can actually act. Here, Kutcher proves once and for all that he can also be serious--and convincing. His character Evan starts off as a nice college kid and gradually morphs into a wild-eyed lunatic who knows and has seen too much. Unlike his costars, however, Kutcher changes the least physically, while Smart's Kayleigh, thanks to Evan's manipulation of the past, goes through incredible physical transformations--from a frumpy waitress, to a perky sorority chick, to a drug addicted prostitute to a yuppie. Through it all, the actress keeps her character's strength and honesty constant, giving depth and solidity to an otherwise variable character.


Scribes Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, the writing team behind last year's thriller Final Destination 2, make their directorial debut here in a film that works because of its simplicity. Bress and Gruber never attempt to explain how it is that Evan is able to travel back and forth in time; moviegoers must instead suspend their disbelief for 113 minutes. Had the directors chosen to delve into the physics of time travel, too many practical problems would have arisen, including the possibility of paradoxes: Could Evan, for example, have gone back in time and accidentally caused his own death? By avoiding the matter altogether and embracing the romantic notion of time travel from linear Newtonian physics, all is forgiven. The only allusions Bress and Gruber make to Evan's trips through time are some rudimentary camera tricks, including earthquake-like tremors, words jumping off the diary pages and fast-forwarding through new sets of memories. The story, therefore, is always the focus of the film and the theme remains supernatural rather than science fiction, as do the characters, all of which are all well crafted and unique. And while the ending isn't necessarily a crowd-pleaser, it's sensible and it resonates long after the show is over.

Bottom Line

While The Butterfly Effect isn't profoundly philosophical stuff, it is an intriguing look at how the past shapes the future, and in the leading role, Ashton Kutcher makes a successful crossover from comedy to drama.