I’d call this a darker Back to the Future, but that sounds more like the ‘80s-set “Donnie Darko”. So maybe “The Butterfly Effect” is sort of a “Donnie Kelso”, or punk’d Philip K. Dick, or The Family Man on crack, or Run Lola Run by the way of Lost Highway by the way of every other flick in which the protagonist switches to a “What if?” alternate dimension and/or gets a chance to go back in time and make different decisions.
Ashton Kutcher (also a producer) stars as Evan Treborn, a college psychology student who had a brutally traumatic childhood. Chronic blackouts left him with no recollection of the worst parts, but now these lost memories are crawling back into his mind. Furthermore, Evan discovers that he can actually alter these memories. Hence maybe his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh (Amy Smart) didn’t have to suffer the abuse of her father (Eric Stoltz), maybe they didn’t have to be bullied by Kayleigh’s evil prick brother Tommy (William Lee Scott), maybe…
Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s movie is definitely derivative and it can be rather overblown and ridiculous. In fact, what it’s most reminiscent of is that Simpsons episode where Homer toasters his way back in time and everything he does in the past affects the present, and every time he goes back to fix one thing he messes up something else. Likewise with Evan, whose time-travelling shenanigans affect him and his friends in all kinds of twisted ways. Gruber and Bress are wildly sadistic with their characters. It’s as if they were on a bet to see how much misery and melodrama they could fit in one movie: kiddie porn, animal cruelty, baby killing, drug addiction, crippling injuries, jail rape, the fun never stops!
Ashton Kutcher takes a convincing enough dramatic turn here, but Amy Smart owns this movie, uncannily metamorphosing from one alternate reality to another, from suicidal waitress to sorority babe to prostitute, etc. There are also effective performances by Melora Walters as Evan’s long-suffering mother and Ethan Suplee as his Goth college roommate, and the editing and sound mix are pretty T.N.T. It’s a shame that the intriguing ideas raised by the filmmakers are only set-up for cheap thrills and trashy fun but hey, it’s January, I’ll take whatever thrills and fun I can get, however cheap or trashy.