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and J. Mackye Gruber

In The Butterfly Effect, Ashton Kutcher’s brain hurts. OK, it’s supposed to be the brain of his character, Evan Treborn, who has suffered from blackouts since the age of 7 and learns as a college student that he has the ability to go back in time and stop the terrible, horrible, no-good happenings from his childhood. Whenever Evan alters the past—say, being molested along with his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) by Kayleigh’s dad (Eric Stoltz), or getting bullied by Kayleigh’s screwed-up brother, Tommy (played at 8 and 13 by Cameron Crigger and Jesse James, respectively)—a new history comes flooding into his pretty little head. You can tell, because Kutcher demonstrates the process by bugging his eyes, slackening his jaw, and generally looking as if he’s experiencing a Very Private Moment. Indeed, Kutcher’s first go at drama is often as comic as his work on That ’70s Show: He also blinks a lot when he’s listening intently and talks very low when he’s being serious. But his badness is consistent with the rest of this movie by first-time writer-directors and Final Destination 2 scripters Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. The junior Evan is shown confronting Kayleigh’s father with “This is the moment of your reckoning,” and Tommy, the tiny bad seed, is shown twisting the head of a doll in silent rage, wearing a leather jacket that likely weighs more than he does, and snarling lines such as “Listen to me, Evan, and listen to me good!” Evan’s time-hopping is rendered with a furious shaking of the camera and crackling sounds, and the scares are limited to the cheap, loud-noise variety. Admittedly, it’s fun to see what changes every time Evan goes back, but not that fun: The narrative quickly devolves into a series of episodes so disconnected they could have been resolved only by an ending as eye-rolling as Kutcher’s attempts to cry. —Tricia Olszewski