While researching memory loss — motivated by his own history of blackouts — psychology student Evan Treborn discovers his childhood journals can throw him back in time to repressed events. But his attempts to undo the traumatic and tragic past keep altering the present in unpredictable, unwelcome ways.
Just how many seriously disturbed people can there be in one suburban neighbourhood? That’s just one of many elements that defy reason in a time-travel thriller simultaneously daft and disgusting.
Four children, scarred by a paedophile’s abuse, are swept-up in violent juvenile delinquency. They seem destined for misery and a life of crime, yet one of their number grows from weird kid Evan into brainy science guy Evan (Kutcher). Even more inexplicably, perusing his diaries transports Evan back to moments where he can change things, with repeatedly dicey results. What in theory might have been an actors’ showcase — Amy Smart, for one, plays weary waitress, sorority party girl and disfigured junkie prostitute in alternative time-lines — is undistinguished, to put it kindly, in performances and direction.
Arguably worse than its sadistic absurdity is the depressing, limited scope. In defiance of the title (referring to Chaos Theory’s proposition that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world), Evan exhaustingly manipulates people’s actions, but nothing in the world around them changes.
A nasty exercise in which the better ideas have been used in better movies — even Timecop! Bress and Gruber should have developed their premise as a comedy, and Kutcher fails to establish credentials for adult drama.