One of the classic wishes that I'll wager we all have is to
change the past in order to make the present easier to take.
Think of the classic song, "Yesterday/ All my troubles seemed
so far away/ I need some place to hide away/ Oh I believe in
yesterday." If a single day can ruin someone's life, think of what
five, ten, twenty years of bad decisions can do! Evan Treborn
(Ashton Kutcher), barely out of his teens and now a psych.
major in college, is so damaged by feelings of guilt (doubtless
exacerbated by reading too many books in his major subject)
that he comes across as a candidate for suicide. Lucky for him,
though, that he finds a way like the Jim Caviezel character in
Gregory Hoblit's superb, underappreciated drama, "Frequency,"
a young man able to communicate with his dead father via a
Twilight Zone-like ham radio, advising him how to avoid turning
the wrong way while putting a fire.
Unlike "Frequency," however, "The Butterfly Effect" has too
darn many changes, so many that one thinks regularly of the
great line by the Austrian emperor in Milos Forman's 1984
masterpiece, "Amadeus," "Too many notes." The changes are
not really confusing unless you blink while watching and
they're preceded in a manner that no arthouse film would
attempt by positioning Evan as a man who first sees his
handwriting as blurred, then becomes the victim of a virtual
earthquake which transports him zoom! into the part of his life
that he wants to change.
The great irony of "The Butterfly Effect" and its cleverest
conceit is that each time he returns to the past, he makes things
worse, until the bittersweet ending that both ties the loose knots
and frees Evan from guilt while drastically affecting his
relationship with the love of his life.
The story takes root by showing Evan Treborn as a kid who
will arrive at middle-school age hanging out with some pals who
get off by making trouble. Even in kindergarten he gets into a
fix when his teacher discovers that while the other guys in the
class are appropriately drawing pictures of what they want to be
later in life, Evan sees himself as a knife-wielder killer, blood
dripping from his weapon. Suffering frequent blackouts, Evan
scares his mom (Melora Walters) and is taken to a psychologist
who suggests that the boy keep a journal. The notebooks are
intriguing, particularly the scene that finds the young man forced
into a kiddie-porn movie set up by the father (Eric Stoltz) of his
childhood friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart as an adult). He
represses this and a number of other memories including one
that finds him as an accessory to manslaughter when a
dynamite stick placed in a birdhouse kills the resident and her
If Bill Murray had to revisit a single day in the great comedy
"Groundhog Day," improving his fortune month by month via the
lessons he learns, then Ashton Kutcher, as Evan, seems unable
to make the right changes. His actions land him in jail while
people he knows deterioriate, particularly his girlfriend Kayleigh
who changes from a knockout of a sorority girl to a hooker who
might have used the same makeup artist as did Charlize Theron
Kutcher has not acquired the depth to turn him from a comic
character, the schlub as he was as one who related so
realistically to Steve Martin's character in "Cheaper by the
Dozen." Miscast in a journey that should have used Eric Stoltz
to a far greater extent that writer-directors Eric Bress and J.
Mackye Gruber thought reasonable, he is the weak link in a
story with real potential, one skirting the genres of sci-fi, horror,
fantasy and romance. There is considerable,convincing
violence throughout the story perpetrated principally by Tommy
Miller (William Lee Scott), unlucky as the son of a pederast and
envious of his friend Evan's relationship with his sister. The
young Miller beats and virtually kills the people who frustrate
him and in one of Evan's attempts to remake the present is
stabbed to death as well (though brought to life later on as Evan
tweaks his metamorphoses). In one of the bungled changes,
Evan's mother is turned from a healthy, caring woman into a
victim of metastatic cancer, brought on when she began chain
smoking after a tragedy that befalls her family.
"The Butterfly Effect" is well served by the scripters'
imaginations and could have been far better with a more
convincing performance by the lead male.
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten