TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE
**1/2 (out of 5)
January 23, 2004
Ashton Kutcher as EVAN TREBORN
Amy Smart as KAYLEIGH MILLER
Melora Walters as ANDREA TREBORN
Eric Stolz as GEORGE MILLER
Ethan Suplee as THUMPER
William Lee Scott as TOMMY MILLER
Studio: New Line Cinema
Directed by: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
BY KEVIN CARR
“The Butterfly Effect” tells the story of Evan (Ashton Kutcher), whose life we see from age seven until his early twenties. To be blunt, his life sucks. His father is a psychopath in a sanitarium. His mother loves him but can’t see signs of danger until they have already ruined lives. She leaves Evan with a local pedophile babysitter and lets him hang out with some of the worst kids in town.
Evan has been friends with Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and Tommy (William Lee Scott) most of his life. As a child, Kayleigh and Tommy’s father (Eric Stolz) made kiddie porn with them. Tommy was equally screwed up, apparently jealous because he wasn’t allowed to be in the movies. He grows up to be a sadistic, violent and demented juvenile delinquent.
Like his insane father, Evan has suffered from blackouts most of his life. These blackouts happen in the wake of intense trauma, such as during the abuse by Kayleigh and Tommy’s dad. To try keeping track of these events, Evan’s doctors suggested he keep journals. Years later, in college, Evan learns that by revisiting his journal entries, he can actually travel back in time and experience his lost memories – and change them.
With this new power, Evan goes back to try to set things right in his childhood. However, each time he does so, he snaps back into a new present to discover that things are different – and often the situation is worse.
Okay, here’s where my nerdiness is really going to shine. A sticking point with this film for me was that it isn’t really about the Butterfly Effect. Oh sure, they correctly paraphrase the chaos theory at the start of the film. The Butterfly Effect is the chaos concept that a tiny change, like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings, can cause a typhoon on the other side of the world.
But that’s not what happens in this film.
The Butterfly Effect is about insignificant changes that amplify through the chaotic world to cause significant changes. However, in the film, when Evan makes insignificant changes, nothing happens. For example, when he is discovering this power, Evan goes back in time to one of his blackouts and accidentally drops a cigarette on himself, causing a burn mark to appear on his chest thirteen years later. This seemingly minor incident is just that. Minor. It has no effect on the world.
Evan uses his power to make significant, life-altering changes to people in his past. That’s when the whole “Change one thing, change everything” concept comes from. But this just ain’t the Butterfly Effect, kiddies. They could have called the film “The Uncertainty Principle” or “The Theory of Relativity” or even “The Origin of the Species” for how accurate it was.
So that’s just my science nerd background coming out, and you might say that I’m taking offense at something that I shouldn’t. But the filmmakers wanted to capitalize on something cool like chaos theory, like Michael Crichton did successfully in “Jurassic Park,” but they didn’t want to actually make it accurate.
Another sticking point I had was with the time travel aspect. I like a good time travel story as much as the next guy, but I had a real problem with the romance novel-style of time travel that Evan discovered. Reading journals out loud? It really doesn’t work for me. Plus, they didn’t even get the time travel rules right.
Again, I’m showing my nerd roots here, but sometimes when Evan traveled back in time as an adult, he created memories that were already there and not results of trauma. This is internally inconsistent with the fact that he only traveled back to his memories and affected them as an adult. Some of his trips implied there was no set future. Others did.
Stepping away from my nerd complaints, I just found the film to be in bad taste – creating horrible situations to build character. The movie tries to be too visceral, and it just comes out as being repugnant. Do we really want to watch a pedophile get ready to make a kiddie porn movie with his own daughter and her friend? Do we really want to watch a thirteen year old punk set fire to a dog in a burlap bag? Do we really want to see a woman and her baby get blown to smithereens by a firecracker? Sure, all of this happens off-screen, but that doesn’t make it any less distasteful.
In general, I like Ashton Kutcher as an actor. But I do admit he has limited range. Kelso from “That ‘70s Show” and Jesse from “Dude, Where’s My Car?” are about the top of his game. In watching him in “The Butterfly Effect,” we see tastes of him trying to stretch out past his own type-cast roles. But I’m always going to see him as the stoner dude. I can’t believe that he was once in the running to play Superman. What is the world coming to?