This movie is not just pretentious twaddle. It is inept and exploitive pretentious twaddle, not even worth a “so bad it’s good” video rental.
The title comes from the idea, here attributed to “chaos theory,” that the flap of a butterfly’s wing can produce a typhoon half a world away. Ashton Kutcher, way out of whatever league he is capable of playing in, is Evan, a tortured soul who was given to blackouts as a child. Now in college, as his memories begin to come back, Evan regrets not having been able to save Kayleigh (Amy Smart), the girl he loved, from her abusive father. He realizes that he has inherited the gift of being able to go back in time and change the direction of events. But each time he goes back, he makes things worse.
This is an irresistibly intriguing notion — all of us have thought about what would happen if we could go back in time and make a different choice, and the idea has been explored in formats from fairy tales to EC Comics to Twilight Zone episodes. And just about all of them have had more imagination, insight, and even believability than this version. If I could go back in time, I’d try to talk myself out of deciding to watch this movie.
Evan gets to go back to the moment in which he agreed to take his clothes off for a child porn video made by Kayleigh’s father (Eric Stoltz). Instead of saying no or running away or calling the police, 7-year-old Evan’s second chance decision is to explain to Kayleigh’s father in the words of his adult persona that her father should not destroy her life. Somehow, this instantly persuades him to stop molesting her.
Then college-age Evan, back in the present but of course remembering the original reality, is all of a sudden transformed from cool guy with goth roommate to frat boy, with Kayleigh transformed from suicidal waitress to the sweetheart of Sigma Chi.
But oh-oh, when 7-year-old Evan’s compelling powers of persuasion showed Kayleigh’s father the error of his ways, he somehow forgot to include Kayleigh’s brother Tommy, who now, in scenario #2, as the recpient of all of the abuse in the family, is rather over-protective of his sister and apt to get angry at anyone who wants to be her boyfriend. Disaster ensues and Evan has to find a way to go back to another fork in the road to try to make things work out better.
Other scenarios present other problems, including several variations in Evan’s facial hair to help Kutcher and the audience remember which one is which, as we run through a Jerry Springer assortment of every possible form of hideous crime and abuse, including animal torture, child molestation, the death of an infant, prison rape, and drug addiction, all unforgiveably thrown in for shock value and none with any shred of dramatic legitimacy. And wherever he is, psychology teacher’s pet, half-hearted participant in fraternity hazing, confined to prison, or confined to a wheelchair, Kutcher’s acting is not up to the challenge of making even a nosebleed believable. The only thing in this movie that makes any sense is the revelation in the credits that the producer with the poor judgment to put Ashton Kutcher in this mess was…Ashton Kutcher.
Parents should know that the movie has extreme graphic violence. Characters are severely wounded and killed, including children. A character commits suicide and an animal is tortured and killed. Children are also molested (off-camera) and there are references to prison rape. The movie includes nudity and very explicit sexual references and situations, including bondage gear, prostitution, and references to multiple orgasms. Characters smoke (including children), drink, and use drugs (bong shown, character is an addict, cocaine mentioned). Characters use very strong language, including hate speech.
Families who see this movie should talk about moments when they could have made a different choice and how that would have affected the lives of others around them.
Families who are intrigued by this idea will enjoy many better variations on the theme including the original Bedazzled, Frequency, Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, and of course the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. They should also look at this famous butterfly effect story by Ray Bradbury.