No one ever suspects the Butterfly

Dude, Where’s My Car? this ain’t.

Instead we get Ashton Kutcher’s first attempt at serious drama, where child abuse, suicide, prostitution and prison rape are all par for the course. It’s pleasantly surprising that The Butterfly Effect isn’t as bad as most of the current crop of teen horrors, but it’s still no Exorcist.

Kutcher, best known as Kelso on That 70’s Show and the wacky cougar-hunter who bagged Demi Moore, plays a university student with a troubled past. Evan Treborn’s childhood was chock full of traumatic events–so traumatic that he blacked out through all of them and is left with disturbing gaps in his memory.

With the help of his old journals, Treborn can now revisit these black-outs and take control of his past. Granted, the movie doesn’t really explain why he can suddenly play God, but it doesn’t have to. It’s an intriguing premise that, in the right hands, could be turned into an effective thriller.

In this case, those hands belong to Eric Bress and J. Mackeye Gruber (Final Destination 2), a writing team with no previous directorial experience. With The Butterfly Effect, Bress and Gruber are neither great nor awful, instead piloting themselves straight into the realm of the average.

On the one hand, they’re definitely adept at creating scenes that make you cringe. Parts of The Butterfly Effect are downright disturbing, revelling in topics your typical Kutcher vehicle never even approached.

On the other hand, Bress and Gruber are a touch too prone to cliches. When a movie begins with a character writing out a letter stating "if you’re reading this, I’m already dead," it’s difficult not to wince for all the wrong reasons.

So what of Kutcher?

His performance belongs firmly in the furrowed-brow school of dramatic acting, but at least he manages to bring some emotion to a role he wholeheartedly throws himself into. It’s a blessing he’s not as annoying as on Punk’d, and, while you never entirely forget about his That 70’s Show alter-ego, you can at least push those thoughts to the back of your mind. While he won’t be the next Brando, we can at least give the kid some credit for trying.

If the direction and acting aren’t extraordinary, what does that leave?

There’s some truth to the marketing’s claim it’s an idea movie. The film deals with some heady concepts on the nature of causality and the role childhood traumas play in creating monsters. By allowing Treborn to change the past instead of merely asking "what if?" it also raises issues about the consequences of playing God.

In the end, The Butterfly Effect doesn’t provide anything new. Everything from Frankenstein to Bruce Almighty deals with the dangers of playing God, while the Simpsons Halloween Special with the time-travelling toaster was enough to discourage most of us from tinkering with the past.

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