It usually means that I totally hated the film but I’m keeping that to myself for now. I hate to be Buzz Killington and spoil the mood when I clearly see that everyone else has enjoyed it. Either that or the movie was a mix of things good and bad and I just need some time and distance before I can give it a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. Once I think it over, I usually post a blog entry here in which I divulge my opinion.
People actually figured that out by now. The other day someone asked me about Wolverine and I truthfully admitted that it was atrocious. Another friend rolled his eyes and said “why are you asking Luke about this, the guy is a fucking movie critic.” I found that pretty amusing. Also I’ve been scolded by a Twilight fan for my negative review IRL but that’s a whole other story. Either way, I don’t actually enjoy summer blockbusters and so called popcorn movies the same way as most people do.
The movies that I really enjoy are the ones that will move me, disturb me, fuck with my mind and shake me to the core. I want a movie to leave me with that uneasy feeling that I can’t shake off for days. Those are truly great movies – and there are precious few of them out there.
Sometimes I have a good sense to stay clear of the really bad movies. This doesn’t happen often, because I hardly ever pass up an occasion to go see a picture on a big screen. I like it for the experience itself. Not to mention the fact that bad movies make for good reviews. But if no one drags me out to see a bad movie, I can usually be blissfully ignorant of it’s badness. This is what happened when Butterfly Effect originally came out.
Let’s face it, it a serious movie headlined by Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart – two actors known best for wacky comedies. Last time I checked, casting comedic actors in roles that require serious dramatic range was a recipe for a train wreck. Not that I have anything against Ms. Smart. I liked her ever since she took her top off in Road Trip but not necessarily for her acting skills. Kutcher however is someone I’d love to see punched in the face repeatedly. Which actually happens in this movie quite a bit, but I digress…
The casting choice combined with pretty bad reviews in the press (and by press I mean the internet – do they actually still sell dead tree newspapers and magazines?) convinced against seeing it. Few days ago I watched Butterfly on a whim – we were simply looking for something entertaining. I approached it with very low expectations knowing in my heart of hearts that it will be a suck-fest. I expected bad jokes, and Kutcher constantly grinning at the camera and throwing out silly one liners while having his misadventures in time. I was totally prepared to write yet another scathing review.
What happened next surprised me. Ashton Kutcher was only mildly annoying and semi-competent in his role. Amy Smart was actually doing a great job as his troubled love interest. Most importantly however, the movie did not suck. It was actually pretty thoughtful and tackled the overused concept of time travel pretty well.
Kutcher plays a young man with a strange psychological disorder which makes him block out particularly disturbing memories. This issue seems to be hereditary, since his symptoms closely mirror those of his father who eventually ended up in an insane asylum. These memory blackouts happen to him quite often since his childhood is pretty messed up. He is sexually molested, he is almost strangled by his father, his childhood shenanigans cause a horrific and tragic accident, he sees his dog being tortured and then burned alive and etc.. Because he is able to block out these memories he turns out fine. He moves away from his home town, goes to college and becomes a promising psychology major.
One day however he finds the journals that he wrote ever since he was a kid, and when he re-reads them his memories start flooding back. Each time he reads an entry that deals with one of the traumatic events he blocked out he experiences a vivid flashback. During this flashbacks he is taken back to his childhood, to relive the event in a vivid, realistic manner but he retains his adult memories. This allows him to change change the outcome of each flashbacks – and no two of them are ever the same. However when he does something that changes the outcome of the flashback (ie he prevents an accident from happening), the world changes around him. When his consciousness returns, he wakes up in a changed world.
Unsurprisingly his meddling with the time line usually changes things for worse. Whenever he saves one person, he completely ruins some other persons life. Each time he changes something the time line gets worse, and his brain gets more damaged as it tries to re-write his memories. This is of course depicted using the standard Hollywood cliche – a nose bleed. Cause you know, nose bleed == brain damage.
It is a fairly standard time travel scenario – changing past is tricky, and you will usually fuck things up when you try it. Butterfly Effect handles it in a fairly competent way. One could argue that the script is a bit over the top and it goes to extreme lengths to make the alternate time lines to be as disturbing as possible. It is true, a little subtlety could go a long way here. Most of the alterations the hero makes could lead to much lest drastic alternate futures which would still not be satisfactory and prompt him to do some more time meddling. Then again, you have to remember this film stars Ashton Kutcher who might be many things but subtle aint’ one of them. So while the plot might be a little heavy handed, it works.
I did not mind that the script was driving the points home with a sledgehammer. This extremist approach could be viewed both as a flaw or as one of the strengths of this movie. The movie made me uneasy and I was almost mesmerized as it was stacking one shocking or disturbing image on top of the other. It affected me somehow, made me care about the characters and kept me guessing as to what happens next.
Butterfly Effect is definitely worth watching. I find it surprising too, but I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is at least worth a rental. So put it on your net flicks queue, set your expectations to medium and enjoy.