The last two movies Ashton Kutcher has starred in came out in the worst movie months of the year. Just Married came out last January and My Bosses Daughter came out in August. But he's the new hot kid in TinselTown with his hit TV show Punk'd and his May-December romance with Demi Moore. Even so, it's not a huge surprise that his new movie, The Butterfly Effect is coming out in January, the space on the calendar usually reserved for movies the studios are unsure of. Will The Butterfly Effect increase his rapidly growing star power? Probably not. I came into the movie thinking it could either be really good or really bad. Well, it's neither, just slightly above average and while it's not as bad as, oh, Gigli, it's not nearly as good as any of the other big dogs that will be vying for Oscar nominations on Tuesday.
It's probably not a big surprise that the co-writers/co-directors wrote Final Destination 2, since The Butterfly Effect treads on fairly similar ground. But while the premise of the Final Destination movies is fairly improbable, this movie is even more improbable...and they both share really crappy titles. This movie is about the crazy life of Evan Treborn (Kutcher) and this crazy brain he has that enables him to change the past, which of course, gives him and the ones around him totally different lives. But this crazy brain must be in the genes, because his father had the same kind of power, which landed him in an insane asylum. But Evan tries to use his power for good, not evil, of course, and he goes in and out of these "lives" he has whenever he changes something, playing God, so to say, and he must learn to cope with his powers...and stuff. See, I told you it was improbable.
I'm glad they had Evan try to figure this all out for himself, instead of having this one person on Earth who lives in seclusion and is the only one who knows the truth about these powers. Remember that big black guy in the Final Destination movies? Yeah, I'm glad they didn't do that. And I'm glad they harkened back to the old-school horror movies by putting in a lot of really jumpy scenes in the movie. There was a lot of shock factor in this movie, and I haven't seen anything quite like it in awhile, and I liked it a lot. But I was really shocked that they expected us to believe that his brain can teleport him back to his past, and stuff like that. I mean, I know it's a movie, and they can push and stretch the bounds of reality. Like I can buy God telling people to kill "demons" in Frailty, and I can buy split-personality killers in Identity. But I just can't believe that his head is a time machine. Sorry, but it just doesn't work for me.
I wasn't quite sure what to think of the hyper Kutcher playing it straight in a dramatic movie, but he didn't do too bad, actually. Kutcher portrayed Evan’s toned-down and sometimes-psychotic demeanor fairly nicely. He kind of looked like a goon at some points, and he was going over the top in other parts, but I would say his overall performance was good. Amy Smart and Elden Henson, who were both in the highly underrated The Battle of Shaker Heights, turn in very nice performances here too as Kayleigh and Lenny. Melora Waters is very good as well, as Evan's mom and Ethan Supplee is O.K. as Thumper, which is just a perfect name for him. But the show-stealing performance, however, comes from Jesse James, who plays the younger Tommy, Kayleigh's brother. He's excellent as this psychotic young kid who likes burning dogs and beating the crap out of people. Think of Maccauley Culkin's character in The Good Son and multiply it by 74. The kid is way out there, and James portrays him wonderfully.
The script, while kind of inventive, is the biggest problem with the movie, mainly because it doesn't really have a modicum of, well, reality. They build tension very nicely, and it doesn't over-explain the crazy-brain parts, leaving it up to us to figure it out, which I thought was a nice touch. But there's some pretty crap-tacular dialogue, an incredibly long and boring middle part of the movie and they blew their chance to have a nice, realistic ending. I of course won't spoil it for you, but all the unrealistic parts could've been rectified if they would've just ended it about 10 minutes earlier. But, of course, they don't.
Directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, who also wrote the script, have a pretty nice style here and their direction has a certain flow about it, even though the middle of the movie dragged it down a lot. They handled Kutcher nicely in his first dramatic role and they're incredibly explicit violence shocked the crap out of me, which most directors might have gone a different route with. I'm glad they didn't, though. With better material, hopefully written by someone other than themselves, they could be a fairly solid directing team.
The Butterfly Effect is a movie about changing the past rather than moving on. The whole movie, I just kept waiting for Kutcher to look at the camera and say, "You've just been Punk'd," and in a way, he did punk us. Even though it's not that bad, he punk'd us into thinking it's a lot better than it really is.