"All Together Now: Time! Travel! Is! Dangerous!....Dummy!"
Coming early in the year and featuring the often open-mouthed Ashton Kutcher in the lead role, 'The Butterfly Effect' sure feels a whole lot like an easy target: a throwaway sci-fi potboiler pinning its meager box-office hopes to a sitcom idol and a heavy-rotation ad campaign. It WOULD be easy to dismiss TBE as such...if it weren't such a crafty and creepy little mindbender!Right off the bat it must be said: acting-wise (as in the notable presence of some skill at the fine art of acting), Kutcher's making some advances. That's not to say the guy needs to start worrying about Oscar acceptance speeches any time soon, but as one who mercilessly knocks the plainly talentless, it only seems fair to offer due notice when some improvements are made.
So Ashton plays Evan Treborn ("Event Reborn!" Get it? I can't be the only one...), a mild-mannered and average lug who harbors more than a few nasty childhood traumas within his seething brain region; the nasty sort of Rod Serling-style traumas that once led to blackouts...and now lead to flashbacks. And if I told you that these flashbacks were the sort that allow Evan to journey back in time, monkey around with the who-did-whats and to-whoms, and then sprint back to modern times...
You call it a recipe for disaster. Or you would if you're familiar with similar time-twisting fantasies as presented in The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits...heck, even The Simpsons convinced us of a world without donuts, thanks to Homer and his ill-prepared attempts at time travel.
Essentially we have one major backbone of a plot (Evan's childhood and the nastiness therein), threaded with several 'alternative present days' as our well-meaning protagonist leaps back and forth in time. Each time he tries to fix a tragedy, and each time he returns to find things are inevitably (and nastily) much worse.
What helps to elevate The Butterfly Effect above many of its kind is the dark & twisted screenplay (courtesy of Final Destination 2 scribes and first-time directors Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber) that ocassionally threatens to take the safe or easy way out, yet still backs away every time.
The result is a 'mainstream' movie that's as bleak and harsh as you could expect, particularly considering the PG-13 rating. A movie can't succeed on nasty jolts alone, but Bress & Gruber dole out their surprises with a calm confidence that belies their relative inexperience. (In other words, they write dark and devious stuff, and I look forward to their next project.)Kutcher's supporting cast (Amy Smart, Ethan Supplee, Elden Henson, Eric Stoltz) deserves more than a casual mention, as they easily buoy the flick through its few rough spots. One wonders how much the Kutcher-faithful (i.e. young girls) will appreciate TBE, but at least the guy's trying to advance past the Moronic Slapstick portion of his career.