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The Butterfly Effect: Infinifilm

While it's usually simple to divide movies into separate lots belonging to The Good and The Bad, the ambitious thriller The Butterfly Effect (2004) enthusiastically throws simple categorization into chaos, covering the spectrum of quality with always intriguing, if definitely mixed, results. As a seven-year-old boy, Evan Treborn (Logan Lerman) is struck with unpredictable, often trauma-induced, blackouts, and when he recovers he remembers nothing. This concerns his single mother (Melora Walters), who not only suffered three still-births prior to only-child Evan's arrival, but also watched a similar memory-related illness drive Evan's father into institutional incarceration. Truth is, Evan has a lot worth blacking out: His childhood is so bleak it would drive Dickens to drink. The only bright spot in his grim adolescence is his relationship with his beleaguered, abused friend Kaylie (Irene Gorovaia), but even that is marred by her creepy dad (Eric Stoltz) and the influence of her sociopathic brother Tommy (Jesse James). By the time Evan is 13, Tommy's delinquent tendencies are out of control, and Evan's mother whisks her son away from Sunnyvale and his childhood sweetheart, toward, hopefully, a less-troubled life. Seven years later, Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a hunky college student impressing his professors with his obsessive experimental theories about memory — his own unaffected by blackouts since leaving Kaylie all those years ago. But just as he celebrates his amnesia-free anniversary, he experiences a new kind of blackout — an unexpected trigger transports him back into one of his repressed childhood memories. As Evan begins to mnemonically recover the lost horrors of his youth, he also becomes aware of their harrowing present-day effects on both adult Kaylie (Amy Smart) and another childhood friend, Lenny (Elden Henson), and Evan dives back into his memories, this time to change them, causing a ripple through time (a.k.a. a "butterfly effect") as each minor change produces a different future. Written and directed by the team of Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, The Butterfly Effect tackles chaos theory like a grim Groundhog Day, as Evan continuously dips into his past aiming to effect a perfect present. This complicated concept is executed by Bress and Gruber with equal amounts energy and stupidity; like idiot savants or stoned geniuses, their disturbing enthusiasm is both wayward and contagious, and while they never surmount the credibility gap, their movie is lively, intense (but never tense), and always interesting, but also simple-minded and silly. Star Kutcher is a talented comic actor; not so much with the drama. Nevertheless, his natural dufus-demeanor is in perfect sync with the likable, unfaltering boneheaded drive of the enterprise. That doesn't make The Butterfly Effect good, but neither is it boring or terminally insipid. Fun to watch, even if it's not always clear why.

*          *          *

New Line's "infinifilm" release of The Butterfly Effect presents the theatrical version of the movie on one side of the disc, but features a six-minute longer Directors' Cut on the other side. The main attraction of the Directors' Cut is the original (and perfectly preposterous) ending, which displeased the studio, and could have earned the film the title It's a Horrible Life. Both versions are presented in good anamorphic transfers (1.85:1) with DTS 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio mixes. The Directors' Cut also sports the infinifilm functionality (which integrates special content, like info pop-ups and links to relevant extra materials into the movie); an "amazing" commentary by Bress and Gruber (during which just about every cast and crew member is described as "amazing"); a trivia subtitle track; featurettes on chaos theory and time travel; "making-of" and effects featurettes; deleted and alternate scenes; storyboards; DVD-ROM content; and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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