The Butterfly Effect

Time travel movies wore out their welcome, sometime after the crew of the Enterprise traveled back in time to kidnap humpbacked whales. Since then, time travel has been overused worse than bullet-time. Thrust into a variety of bad situations and poorly thought out plots, usually highlighted by equally bad time travel effects, it's rare to find a science fiction movie that doesn't in some way involve time travel. I'm still trying to wash the taste of Richard Donner's Timeline out of my mouth. If you saw the trailers for The Butterfly Effect, then you were probably expecting more of the same. I know I was. But last night I paid for a ticket and soldiered into a screening anyway. The trailers had it all wrong. Butterfly Effect is intelligent and well crafted. A brutal movie about the disturbing twists of time travel. Look out, it'll kick you in the gut and give you a reason to care.

The Butterfly Effect stars Ashton Kutcher as Evan Treborn, a college psyche major, and is as a result being unfairly lambasted by critics who have it in for the guy, whether or not the movie he happens to be in is any good. That's a shame, because not only is Butterfly Effect a rare time travel treat, but Kutcher is pretty good in it. As a child, Evan experiences blackouts during periods of extreme stress. Thus, a psychologist recommends he start keeping a detailed journal of his life, to help him deal with his inexplicable memory loss. Years later, Evan starts rereading his journals, hoping to jar loose those old memories that have remained hidden from him. It is then that he discovers that by doing so, he can travel through time to focal points in his life, and potentially change them.

At first he goes back just to try and uncover the holes in his life. But his quest to confront the past leads to an old friend's suicide, and soon he's all out tinkering, attempting to make things better for everyone. The results are never what he expects and Kutcher and his co-stars repeatedly wind up in massively altered realities in which something is always horribly wrong.

I suspect a lot of you stopped reading after the first paragraph, when I hinted that Butterfly Effect might be good. For those of you still here, I suspect I'm fighting the same uphill battle with you that this movie fought and lost with critics. People are ready to hate it and I'm not sure what I can say to change that. But without spoiling the plot, it’s hard to get across what an original and gritty take this is on the time travel genre. It isn't a big budget movie focused on effects, but an acting showcase which tells its story by getting you involved with its own brutalized characters. And yes, Ashton Kutcher CAN act, Cameron Crowe's protestations notwithstanding. At least he does so well enough for the purposes of this movie, in which he keeps his reactions strictly real... fragile even. What you'd expect from a college kid struggling to deal with an upturned world of his own devising.

Amy Smart co-stars with Kutcher, as both Evan's childhood friend and in some realities girlfriend. She really seems to get the most out of the massive changes that take place in her character, as Evan changes things from one reality to another. Her take on her character as a used up prostitute might have really impressed me, had I not so recently seen Monster, in which Charlize Theron gives the most shocking performance of that type ever. But she jumps with equal ease into the role of a sorority girl, a waitress, and whatever else writer/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber can throw at her.

The nitpicks about time travel that I've seen from critics are ridiculous. Need I remind you that this is TIME TRAVEL. I love it when critics talk about traveling through time like it is some scientific fact with physical laws that apply to it, all of which they of course understand. Phooey on that. Altering history is a confusing and convoluted concept to begin with. If you present it in a smart and reasonable manner, that's all that matters. Butterfly Effect connects all the dots that it needs to connect to make the movie work, without getting bogged down in trying to explain something that no one really understands anyway. It does that while still managing to raise a few of the scintillating possibilities that make the concept such a tantalizing one to begin with.

The movie is sharp edged in every way and not afraid to show disturbing scenes of molestation, murder, and animal abuse. It isn't gratuitous, but it is HARD EDGED. Again, not what you'd expect from Ashton Kutcher is it? But Butterfly Effect is a flat out GREAT low budget studio movie that will probably never get the respect it deserves. It uses the dark history of its character as a jumping point to build an entire life and does a fantastic job of showing how little changes can have sickening consequences for yourself and others. Throw out the sad little time travel nitpicks and any lingering resentment you may have towards Ashton Kutcher. You never had a chance at Demi Moore anyway. The Butterfly Effect is a great take on time travel in an era where such movies usually turn into wrecks.