Friday, July 30, 2004

Straight from my newspaper video column to you, Thursday video reviews time!
‘The Butterfly Effect’
What if you could go back in time and change the future? Well, if you’re Ashton Kutcher, all you’ll do is keep screwing it up.
“The Butterfly Effect” uses the well-worn idea of time travel as a vehicle for a story of Evan Treborn (Kutcher) trying to rework his past for the better.
Evan has had a lousy life, filled with abuse, murder and loss. His father was institutionalized and the girl he loves (Amy Smart) was traumatized by her father’s pedophilia. No wonder the boy Evan keeps having blackouts. After a disastrous accident, Evan leaves town, grows up to become Ashton Kutcher and is a troubled college student.
But one day, Evan discovers that the journals he’s kept since childhood might be a valuable tool. Using those journals, he finds he’s able to travel back into his past, rearranging events so his friends and himself have better lives. Or so he hopes. As he discovers, changing your life is a lot harder than it looks.
It’s kind of like that great classic “Simpsons” episode where Homer goes back in time to the age of the dinosaurs and keeps altering reality through his actions. Except “The Butterfly Effect” is mostly funny unintentionally, and I don’t remember that “Simpsons” episode featuring snuff-film horror shocks.
Casual renters beware: “Butterfly” is extremely violent and sadistic in tone. The first half-hour alone is a roller-coaster ride of mutilation, homicide, abuse and infanticide. It’s a movie with a cruel streak a mile wide.
Still, I’m a sucker for time-travel movies, and perhaps I was in a forgiving mood. Despite plot holes you can drive a truck through and often repellent violence, “The Butterfly Effect” isn’t a half bad trashy little thriller.
The movie piles on the tragedies, time-twisting and angst. There’s barely an attempt to give a realistic explanation for the time travel (funny, when I read my old diaries I never end up in 1989).
“The Butterfly Effect” still works in its sleazy way. Shot with a jittery style that emulates “Seven” and other slasher flicks, writer/director Eric Bress tries to make this a deep Gothic fantasy, but it’s really a borderline camp classic.
Despite being the guy critics love to hate, Kutcher isn’t terrible in it. He gives a fairly soulful performance as a man constantly slapped around by fate.
There are two very different versions of the movie out there. The theatrical version features a downbeat but more traditional ending, while the “Director’s Cut” on DVD is an entirely different animal, with a logical yet startling climax surprising enough that it actually knocked the movie up a half-star in my view.
It’s not a good movie, really, but as trashy cinematic guilty pleasures go, this “Butterfly” has wings. But with its obsession with death and disfigurement, maybe “The Vulture Effect” would’ve been a better title.
*** of four for Director's Cut; **1/2 of four for theatrical edition

‘The Perfect Score’
Every high school student’s worst nightmare: The Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT.
“The Perfect Score” uses the world of the SATs and high college expectations as a setting for a teen flick. It brought back horrible high school flashbacks of my own testing experiences. But if I was giving this dull, by-the-numbers teen flick a grade of my own, it’d be a lukewarm “C-.”
Kyle (a very bland Chris Evans) is freaking out about the SAT and what it means for his future. He wants to study to be an architect at Cornell, but without a high SAT score, he doesn’t have a chance. Desperation breeds criminal activity, as Kyle recruits several other high school students — including a basketball player, an overachieving teen princess, a pothead and a Goth outsider — in a daring attempt to steal the SAT answers and get “the perfect score.”
The movie sees itself as a hip, modern cross between “The Breakfast Club” and “Ocean’s 11,” but it’s really nowhere near either movie. The student relationships seem insincere and the whole heist plot thread is carried out in a rather unbelievable, haphazard fashion.
Few of the kids really emerge as memorable personalities. “Lost In Translation” star Scarlett Johansson is typically superb as the misfit rich girl Francesca, but she’s not given much more to do but stand around and make witty putdowns. The rest are weak, badly acted stereotypes. Even the Asian pothead (Leonardo Nam), who’s around for comic relief, is amusing but grating after a while.
The movie feebly tries to throw in a critique of the American educational system and its heavy emphasis on standardized testing, which could’ve made for an interesting debate. But weak direction and a plot so predictable you can set your watch by it make this “Score” far from perfect. Ultimately, it all seems like an “Afterschool Special” that escaped to the big screen by accident.
** of four

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