BUTTERFLY EFFECT Dude, where’s my chaos theory?

The Butterfly Effect

dir. Bress & Gruber

Opens Fri Jan 23

Various Theaters

The Butterfly Effect is the latest, stultifyingly terrible feature-length advertisement for Ashton Kutcher's bone structure. 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 re-reading the journals he was required to keep as a kid, he can recover his lost time, revisiting the site 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, 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.