Chaos theory, Hollywood style

"The Butterfly Effect" begins with a lesson in chaos theory: If a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, the ripple effect could cause a tempest on the other.

So much for the part of the movie that does make a little sense. What follows is the story of Evan, a nice young man who's plagued by a mysterious problem.

He has intermittent blackouts, and awakens in a state of confusion each time. His mom is concerned, his friends are puzzled, his psychiatrist is stumped.

And so are we, until we learn Evan has inherited the unwanted ability that drove his dad into a madhouse. He can travel into the past and alter things that happened (or could have, or would have) in earlier stages of his life.

This naturally changes his present, so he's mixed up every time he returns. Sometimes he's pleased with the results, as when a friend now has a good romance instead of the bad one he'd had before. Sometimes he's not pleased, as when he abruptly finds both his arms missing.

"What good is this," he explodes at one point, "when a minute from now I might be a dirt farmer in Bangladesh?"

The film's premise is respectable, falling between stories like H.G. Wells's novel "The Time Machine," where time travel is a true physical journey, and Chris Marker's movie "La Jetée," where it's ambiguous whether the traveling is a material journey or a mental process.

A problem, though, is that Evan doesn't alter little things. He changes significant things, like whether a family will be destroyed. Nor is the acting much good. Teen heartthrob Ashton Kutcher signals Evan's blackouts by shaking a lot and getting a nosebleed - hardly high drama, even by today's woesome sci-fi standards.

But, hey, maybe the filmmakers have stumbled onto something, so I'll give Evan's method a shot. As soon as I finish writing this review, I'm going to try traveling a few hours in the past. That way, I can improve my life by skipping this movie!

Rated R; contains sex, violence, and drugs.

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