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Friday, January 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Movie Review
Kutcher flits through gruesome 'Butterfly'

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

SHANE HARVEY / NEW LINE CINEMA
In the thriller "The Butterfly Effect," Ashton Kutcher (with Melora Walters) plays a man troubled by terrifying events in his past that he can't remember.
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In this week's romantic comedy "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," fictitious actor Tad Hamilton worries about losing a role to another prominent young male star. "I passed Ashton Kutcher in my car and he seemed happy," frets Tad. "Ashton Kutcher is happy for other reasons," intones his manager darkly.

Well, maybe so, but he's certainly not happy because of "The Butterfly Effect," which is easily the grimmest movie I've seen in ages. A sort of warped, pitch-black variant on the "Back to the Future"/"Groundhog Day"/go-back-to-the-past-and-fix-things genre, this thriller is a change of pace for the handsome Kutcher and his laid-back, goofy persona. (He's best known for "Dude, Where's My Car?" and for the TV comedy "That '70s Show.") And if it was meant to reveal his hidden depths as an actor ... well, keep trying, Ashton, but I think strike one's just been called.

"The Butterfly Effect" is the directing debut of Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, the writing team responsible for "Final Destination 2," which you'd think would be enough shame for any two people.

Movie review


Showtimes

(½ star)
"The Butterfly Effect," with Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, William Lee Scott, Elden Henson, Melora Walters. Written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. 113 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use. Several theaters.

Kutcher, pink-cheeked and earnest, plays Evan Treborn, a college-age man troubled by terrifying events in his past that he can't remember. Unfortunately, we can remember them, because they're shown to us: a pedophile neighbor who preys on his daughter and young Evan, a prank that kills a mother and her infant, a troubled kid who sets fire to Evan's dog, a prison rape scene, drug addiction, and numerous violent incidents involving kids and teens.

Bress and Gruber demonstrated in "Final Destination 2" that they're very good at thinking up creative ways to creep people out (remember that guy in the elevator with the basket of artificial limbs?) and toss in gratuitous nudity, but what they still aren't very good at is crafting an actual story. This one borrows freely from other, better movies but ultimately just feels like a mess, screeching back and forth in time, dragging its actors from one miserable scene to another.

Does Eric Stoltz, who plays the pedophile neighbor in a repulsive subplot (we're tipped off right away that he's evil, because his hair's smushed into a nastily flat wedge), really need work this badly? Did the parents of the various child actors in this movie — who are clearly exposed to all this subject matter — really think that this was a worthy project? Did nobody notice that Kutcher seems to be sleepwalking through the whole thing? (At one point, a helpful character who seems to be spelling out the plot for us says that Evan's accent has changed. Good thing they told us; I missed it.)

Dark, gruesome and thoroughly off-putting, "Butterfly Effect" may nonetheless find an audience. (The title, a reference to chaos theory, has little to do with the movie, except in the general sense that every action causes other actions.) But it left me with a vaguely sick feeling in my stomach, and, for once, it wasn't the popcorn.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com


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