The Butterfly Effect

dir. Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber

Opens Fri Jan 23.

Johnny: I'm readin' about the Butterfly Effect.

Louise: What's the Butterfly Effect?

Johnny: Every time a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, this old granny in Salford has a bilious attack.

Louise: What happens if a butterfly flaps its wings in Salford?

Johnny: That's not the point.

Louise: Oh, is it not?

--from the movie Naked by Mike Leigh

It would be a stretch to relate anything in Naked, Mike Leigh's masterpiece of misanthropy, to The Butterfly Effect, the latest feature-length advertisement for Ashton Kutcher's bone structure. Even citing Naked at the front of this review feels sacrilegious. I've included the above exchange in an attempt to communicate the experience of watching Butterfly, a film so stultifyingly poor on every level that unless you're (a) 12 years old, (b) a sadly desperate gay man/straight woman with a thing for hunky morons, or (c) 13 years old, you really have no business watching. It's not that the Naked excerpt sheds light on the Kutcher movie; it's that the Kutcher movie is such torture that you find yourself running through dialogue from other films to pass the interminable 100 minutes until it finally ends.

To synopsize: Kutcher plays Evan, a genius psychology student (just play along) whose area of expertise is memory, specifically the way memories are stored in the cerebral cortex. It stands to reason that he'd be obsessed with "the complexity of the human brain" (just hearing Ashton Kutcher say that phrase was enough to send the entire theater into a fit of giggles, by the way); ever since he was a little kid, Evan has had a stress-related affliction that causes him to black out, or "lose time," in moments of trauma. Naturally, these traumatic moments are many in little Evan's world; by the age of 13, he's beset by an institutionalized father who tries to kill him, a child-molesting neighbor who tries to videotape him, and a sociopathic playmate who sets his dog on fire. And the hits just keep on coming.

Seven years later, Evan discovers that by rereading the journals he was required to keep as a kid, he can recover his lost time, revisiting the sites of his childhood traumas and, one by one, reversing them. So, the kiddie pornographer (Eric Stoltz, in a what-the-hell-is-HE-doing-here? role) gets a moralizing lecture--Evan calls him a "fuckbag"--and mends his evil ways. The only problem is that the changing of that one incident changes everything that has happened since. Hence, duh, the Butterfly Effect. One second, Evan is a shaggy-haired, scruffy-bearded braniac reading a journal, and the next thing you know--POW!--he's a goateed frat boy running around the halls of a sorority house wearing nothing but a towel. Which of course leads him to accidentally murder somebody. And almost have to perform fellatio on not one but two white supremacists in prison. Every time he goes back in time to change something for the better, he winds up screwing the future in some way he never could have predicted. Dude, where's my chaos theory?

Never mind the convenient science, or the inane dialogue ("You can't hate yourself because your dad is a twisted freak!"), or the trendy visual effects. As with quantum physics, you can't reduce The Butterfly Effect to mere elements. Occasionally, it comes close to having the kind of self-awareness that might save it from its own preposterousness--like when Kutcher channels the frat boy we all know lurks within him--but the film invariably drowns these opportunities in a sea of neglected-teen revenge porn dotted by atolls of morbid violence. Ultimately, Butterfly is pure hybrid: the latest exponent of the growing sub-subgenre of suburban gothic supernatural thrillers in which all the suspense gets used up on wondering when the protagonist will wake up from his bad dream. You could call it a crypto-reactionary/Republican/Christian wish-fulfillment morality play, but that would be giving it too much credit. Really, it's just Donnie Darko for potatoheads. SEAN NELSON

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!

dir. Robert Luketic

Opens Fri Jan 23.

So who is Tad Hamilton, and why do you want to date him? Well, because he's a totally dreamy Hollywood star! You know the type--every girl wants him, every guy wants to be him. Well, it just so happens that while he is a big chewy hunk, once you get past the fake tan and highlights, Tad Hamilton ain't that great of a guy. In fact, he's a big, shallow asshole. But in an attempt to clean up his blemished image, Tad agrees to go on a date with a contest winner from Wisconson or Virginia or Montana or some other stereotypical small-town state. This contest winner just so happens to be one of the hottest girls in America, Kate Bosworth, the blond surfer chick from Blue Crush. You know, the girl with one blue eye and one brown eye... creepy.

Anyway, Tad is all, "Wow, you're pretty," and she's all, "Tad, you're so great," and they make out a lot and he flies to Virginia or wherever hoping that her goodness will rub off on him because he has finally realized he's not so much a quality person. Well, in the middle of everything, Tad actually starts to fall for this beautiful, kind, innocent girl (ya don't say!), and steals her away to be a part of his big Hollywood life. But back up the truck! I forgot to tell you that Blue Crush's geeky best friend is secretly in love with her (he can name all her smiles). And even though he isn't a Hollywood hunk, he's still exactly what she needs--she just doesn't know it yet. Or does she? It's a thriller, this one--a tension builder with one suspenseful twist after another. But not really. It's just cute and funny and playful. Like a puppy. And who doesn't love puppies? MEGAN SELING

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