How many different ways can Ashton Kutcher fuck up time and space?
That’s the question asked in the gloriously silly The Butterfly Effect, a film that was a minor hit back in 2004. Ashton plays Evan Treborn, a disheveled college student who is studying how memory works. All through his life, Evan has suffered from seizures that are triggered by stress. Evan has a lot of stress because apparently, there’s not a single bad thing that didn’t happen to him when he was a child.
Crazy father who tried to strangle Evan before being gunned down in front of his son’s terrified eyes? Yep.
Sexual molestation at the hands of a suburban drunk? Yep.
A best friend who blew up not only a mailbox but also a mother and a baby? Yep.
A dog that was set on fire by a neighborhood bully? Yep.
Another friend who was driven into a catatonic state by all the madness around him? Yep.
A girlfriend who, due to family tragedy, had to move away? Yep.
However, things seem to be getting better for Evan. Now, he’s a psychology major with a bright future. His professors love him. He’s even got a roommate named Thumper (played, somewhat inevitably, by Ethan Suplee). And, as he’s soon to discover, he possesses a special power. All he has to do is read his old journals and, for a limited time, he can go into the past and change his history.
Of course, it turns out that changing history is a lot more complicated than it looks. Evan goes back into the past and confronts the pervy suburban drunk. He then goes back to the present and discovers that he’s now a shallow frat boy who is hated by both his professors and Thumper! Even worse, he eventually ends up in prison for killing a man. Going back into the past and saving his dog leads to his friend Lenny (Elden Hansen) spending the rest of his life imprisoned. Another trip to the past results in Evan waking up as a double amputee. Depending on what Evan does, his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) either becomes a shallow sorority princess or a drug-addicted prostitute. Meanwhile, Kayleigh’s brother (William Lee Scott) goes from being a psychotic murderer to a clean-cut religious guy.
Thumper never changers, though. Thumper endures.
This, of course, is a lot of pressure to put on any character played by Ashton Kutcher and soon, Evan is having nosebleeds and migraines. Every time he changes the past, his brain is flooded with 20 years worth of new memories. His brain might explode before he can fix all the damage that he’s done….
Watching The Butterfly Effect is an odd experience because, on the one hand, the premise is genuinely intriguing but, on the other hand, the film stars the reliably goofy Ashton Kutcher. Ashton grows a beard and doesn’t wash his hair for the first half of the movie, which is the film’s way of letting us know that we’re meant to take him seriously but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still Ashton Kutcher. Even when playing the most dramatic of scenes, Ashton tends to deliver every line as if it’s the set up for a punch line. It’s not surprising that the best part of The Butterfly Effect is when Ashton wakes up and discovers that he’s now a frat boy. Those scenes are intentionally funny and they take advantage of what Ashton Kutcher is actually good at.
At the same time, it’s hard not to get into The Butterfly Effect. It’s a mess but it’s a likable mess and it’s undeniably enjoyable to see how everyone’s life changes as a result of Ashton’s constant meddling. (William Lee Scott especially has fun, switching between being full-blown psycho and full-blown religious.) The Butterfly Effect may be dumb but it’s fun. It’s a film that’s best watched with your snarkiest friends.