Ashton Kutcher, the guy who plays the idiot with the big grin in Fox's "That 70's Show," and whose biggest movie to date is Dude, Where's My Car?, plays what will probably be his most serious role ever in a movie that is surprisingly dark and surprisingly gripping. The Butterfly Effect is an interesting and shocking take on time travel, to say the least.
In a few respects, The Butterfly Effect starts out like many Stephen King stories, where a group of four children become inexplicitly linked by a series of troubling and sometimes tragic events that will haunt them and change them for the rest of their lives. The difference is that The Butterfly Effect examines what would happen if you could go back and change the events of the past so that they wouldn't be a burden later on in life. Of course, as with all time travel movies of this type, changes in the past always make things worse in the future.
Kutcher does a surprisingly decent job in the lead, as a young man just wanting to make things good for everyone. He does the serious thing pretty well, although there are a few parts where his comic talents come into play, and I'm not sure if they were always intentional. Still, the biggest problem I had with him was the way he ran down a hallway near the end of the movie (like a psychotic bird, if there is such a thing), so that says it all. Though I am quite certain that Kutcher will drift back into the comedy genre as he seems most comfortable there, this movie proves that he does have the capability to do dark and serious films.
Of course, the acting is never the make-it-or-break-it part of this movie. As with all time travel films, the quality depends on the plot and believability of the events that take place. The Butterfly Effect handles things pretty well. The actual time travel process is very simple and interesting; Kutcher's character, by reading his journals, is able to travel back in time and take over his body as child. Then, by doing so, he is able to alter his actions in the past. John Patrick Amedori and Logan Lerman both do good jobs as younger versions of Kutcher. The movie never tries to explain how this process came to be, but it is easy to accept and as everything begins to tie together, the ‘why' becomes more important than the ‘how.'
Overall, the movie is very thrilling. The first half hour to an hour is surprisingly scary, as directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber do a good job at using sound effects and sudden movements to create what can only be described as a horror movie without a killer or monster. The blackout scenes are very effective at making the audience jump, and there is one other moment that is guaranteed to make half the theater scream. This first half of the movie is exceptional; dealing mainly with the younger versions of the character, the story develops some interesting mysteries while keeping the audience on the edge of its seat. The content matter is surprisingly grim, as the movie deals with such matters as pedophilia, burning dogs in burlap sacks and other things.
The story finally jumps to present day and Kutcher begins to discover that he can indeed go back into the past and change it. Of course, when he returns, everything else has changed, some things for the better and some for the worst. Of course, as things spiral out of control he goes back in time again and attempts to change the outcome of another event, and then again and again. Each time, some characters benefit and some suffer. Is there a way for everyone to be happy?
As The Butterfly Effect goes on, it does lag in a few parts. The movie is essentially a thriller, but it tends to try to be a little dramatic at times, which just slows things to a halt. This only happens a few times and for brief periods of time, but by the time the ending credits are rolling it seems as though the movie is about 20 minutes too long.
Furthermore, as with any time travel movie, there are some logic flaws. The Butterfly Effect does do a pretty good job of tying everything together, but some outcomes of his tampering in the past result in some pretty goofy modern days (and why, when in the past, does Kutcher's character not run past the exploding mailbox to save the mother and baby instead of stand right in front of it?). While everything works for the entertainment of the movie, I would guess that there are one or two scenes that were funny but weren't meant to be.
The Butterfly Effect is not without flaws and seems a bit long at times, but is essentially a very effective thriller with a fair amount of scares and twists. The movie is a bit heavy handed at times, especially when the characters are kids, but for those who like such a thing, The Butterfly Effect should be a good ride. If I could go back and change the past, I wouldn't change too many things associated with this movie, as it is quite good just the way it is.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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