The Butterfly Effect (2004)

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

In Chaos Theory it is often thought that one small state change can have a dramatic knock-on effect in a later state. This analogy is often referred to as the butterfly effect; a butterfly flapping its wings may eventually cause a tornado on the other side of the world.

The Butterfly Effect takes this premise and applies it to how the past affects the future. Evan (Ashton Kutcher), along with friends Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and Lenny (Elden Henson), and Kayleigh's brother Tommy (William Lee Scott) all suffer psychological dramas during their childhood from events that they shared together. While Evan appears the least affected due to blackouts he suffers from, he later learns he can travel back in time to the events and change them. However, doing so has far-reaching consequences for all four children.

Back in 2004, when The Butterfly Effect was first released, the knives were out for Ashton Kutcher. Here was a young man in his early 20s, fresh to Los Angeles from modelling, who had appeared in questionable comedies such as Dude Where's My Car? trying his arm at more serious acting. A man who, despite having very few acting credentials, had the audacity to live every man's dream and date Demi Moore.

Needless to say, the reviews were written before the film was released, turning The Butterfly Effect into a critical flop. Despite this, it was a commercial success, with perhaps the draw of Kutcher defying the critical view of the time.

In fairness to the critics, it is a flick with all the hallmarks of a back-of-the-shelf thriller, being written and directed by the same duo - Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber - whose most famous film prior was Final Destination 2.

Time travel - which is used in the loosest sense of the word here - is inherently difficult to portray, lest it fall foul of several scientific paradoxes. However, The Butterfly Effect gets around this by inventing its own rules and having Evan's actions seemingly only affect the futures of himself and his companions while the rest of the world continues obliviously. It is less a tornado caused by a butterfly and more of a gentle summer breeze.

Not that the film suffers as a result of this. While it would have perhaps been more accurate to Chaos Theory to turn the world upside down with Evan's adjustments, the method of delivery of The Butterfly Effect makes for a far more watchable film.

It does, occasionally, fall into its own trap of being self-repeating for the sake of it, but it could also be argued by the end that Evan could have explored far more alternative methods before the film's conclusion.

Contrary to early critical reviews, Kutcher does a fine job of keeping the film on track, desperately hunting for the right answer but never slipping into incredulity. The child actors - including Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson) - deserve special mention for keeping the film's lengthy opening sequence watchable.

Overall then, The Butterfly Effect is a reasonable and well-executed sci-fi thriller. It gets a little self-indulgent in the middle, but - in the Director's Cut at least - delivers a smart ending.

3 stars

This review was based on the Director's Cut which adds a limited amount of additional footage to the theatrical release. In addition, the Director's Cut includes an alternative ending which is significantly different from the original cut.