If Ashton Kutcher set out to finally prove that we should take him seriously as an actor, the stupendously silly supernatural time travel travesty The Butterfly Effect proves that that we can’t. In the vehicle that he stars in and executive produced, the photogenic, flip, Teflon-esque Kutcher casts himself as a deeply troubled, super-smart college student plagued by blackouts and violent memories but never by bad hair days. Our hero discovers that just by reading his childhood journals and blinking his eyes while the cinematographer jiggles the camera, he can travel back and forth in time to undo his messed-up past and try to arrange a brighter future for himself and his buds.
Hoping to convince Kutcher’s easily impressed fans that this movie is, like, as totally deep, cool and meaningful, writer/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (those Final Destination 2 maestros) lay it on thick with our star enduring flashbacks of horrifying animal abuse, lung cancer, a crack whore, pedophilia and kiddie porn at the hands of Eric Stoltz and an exploding mailbox that blows to smithereens an unsuspecting mother and child. Everything, as Thelma Ritter observed in All About Eve, but the bloodhounds yappin’ at his rear end.
But quicker than you can say Chaos Theory for Cretins, the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil does set off a Texas tornado. Or something like that. Each and every time Kutcher tinkers with the past, he only screws up the future for his sadistic boyhood friend (William Lee Scott) and his friend’s sister, Kutcher’s childhood sweetheart Amy Smart, who winds up, variously, miserable, a happy-clappy sorority zombie, dead, or turning tricks for drugs on a filthy mattress. “Hurry,” Smart urges Kutcher, playing the good girl, “I want a quickie before school!” “So how’s tricks?” she asks Kutcher, as the hooker, adding: “Sorry, occupational humor.” The likeable Smart, bless her, may know she’s stuck in moron-ville but she plays dumb lines as if they were hot off the printer from Mamet.
Things turn out badly for Kutcher, too, but flat-out hilarious for the viewer, especially when our hero suddenly catches on that he’s an amputee and utters memorably goofy dialogue like, “What the fuck is this?” and “Shit, no arms.” Hang on, too, for Kutcher’s hotness causing a near riot among the hardcore population of a men’s prison where, as an inmate, he’s picked out as the new bitch boy of a neo-Nazi who offers him a choice: “Shit on my dick or blood on my knife?” Later, Kutcher apparently opts for the former when he enters the neo-Nazi’s cell, drops to his knees and dutifully asks, “So, should I suck your dick now?”
What keeps the movie percolating with big laughs is Kutcher, whose idea of Serious Acting seems limited to rocking a beard and frowning a lot. He doesn’t do “vulnerable” at all, but when required to act crazy he pulls out all the stops, shifting his eyes rapidly from right to left or, when expected to act really crazy, from left to right. As he explains, “Jesus speaks to me in my dreams.” And, in this comically serious debacle full of tiresome twists, turns, why exactly is Kutcher’s character so screwed up? It turns out that he suffers from a rare condition: his brain is too massive for his skull. Somebody should have thrown the nets over everyone connected with The Butterfly Effect.