"Just think of your mind as a movie, you can pause, slow down, rewind, and fast forward." This is what our hero's psychiatrist tells him at the beginning of the story. Ironically this very statement conceals the essence of my reaction to "The Butterfly Effect" – the need to fast forward the film's rather derivative third act. Eschewing this gripe, it is a compelling science-fiction film that is also equal parts an admissible drama.
The film borrows its title and premise from Chaos Theory which purports that if a butterfly flaps wings in the US, it could cause a typhoon in, say, China. In the cosmic reality of our everyday lives even if a small detail is altered in our past, the ripples of change could displace our present/future. Evan Treborn (played as an adult by Ashton Kutcher) whose disturbing childhood includes a broken home, violent friends and sexual abuse learns this the hard way. Prone to blackouts and short-term memory loss, Evan eventually grows into a man determined to heal his scarred past. He discovers a way to will his adult consciousness back to crucial moments of his childhood by reading the daily journals he has been keeping. Evan aims to redeem his tormented soul and save his childhood sweetheart, Kayleigh (played as an adult by a luminous Amy Smart). Of course, it is a foregone conclusion that whenever he goes back in time to change one thing, he throws his entire present/future into chaos.
"The Butterfly Effect" is written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, the talented duo responsible for the gory silliness that was "Final Destination 2." But their material this time contains well-written characters and believable interwoven relationships. And because the film tackles some hard social issues, it works as a drama about hurt and despair and the instinctual human need to repair. Also, science-fiction elements of alternate realities and the symbolisms of choice are grounded in the salt of reason. On this basis alone I recommend "The Butterfly Effect" to you. That the film gets bogged down in its final act by plot clichés, bogus character motivations and an unnecessary thriller-like finale almost makes me not.
As an end note, Ashton Kutcher also serves as executive producer. "The Butterfly Effect" was one of the most widely read un-produced scripts in the industry and had he not stepped in, the film would never have seen the light of day. Does Kutcher – presently the Hollywood media's favourite whipping boy - finally manage to replace his unenviable goofball persona with that of a serious actor? There is a sequence towards the end of the film where we find his character, Evan, in a daring escape from his present reality. Kutcher, literally, tip-toes through the corridors of the mental institution he's in. I laughed out loud with a few others around me. But were we supposed to? - Adnan Khan