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This film just won't fly

Poor Ashton Kutcher. The star of TV's That '70s Show and Punk'd plays a character carrying all the weight of the world on his shoulders in The Butterfly Effect. And all he can do to demonstrate the guy's enormous, tragic burden is whine a little and act like a hurt puppy.

Kutcher is likable enough in ensemble work on network television and in the recent, forgettable film comedy Cheaper By the Dozen. He's just brash enough to joke his way through performances as a co-lead in movies as marginal as Just Married and Dude, Where's My Car? But his work is hardly compelling enough to hold the center of a drama as self-consciously serious as The Butterfly Effect.

Of course, the movie wouldn't have been as full of as many inadvertently funny moments had, say, Colin Farrell been given the lead. So maybe Kutcher's lack of gravitas works to the benefit of the film, or, at least, to the benefit of cynical moviegoers. When the going gets laughably absurd, he's the one guy whose performance won't offer too great a contrast with everything else on screen.

The Butterfly Effect, written and directed by the same team responsible for last year's throwaway horror thriller Final Destination 2, boasts a story line that might have been attractive to Rod Serling. The title, a reference to chaos theory, refers to an idea advanced by meteorologist Edward Lorenz three decades ago: Would the single flap of a butterfly's wings have a dominolike effect on events far away, and long into the future?

That suggestion is put to the test in the world of Evan Treborn (Kutcher) one day in college, while he's leafing through old diaries. By concentrating on a single journal entry, he's able to travel to the past, in an effort to change future events for the better. But when he returns, his rewriting of history has resulted in unexpected, and unintended, consequences.

Directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber first offer the setup, an extended sequence centered on the traumatic childhood of Evan (John Patrick Amedori). He's being raised by a single mother (Melora Walters), because his father (Elden Henson) has long been hospitalized for mental illness. Evan, best friend Kayleigh (Irene Gorovaia) and two other pals, a coed update of the unsupervised quartet of school kids in Stand By Me, engage in a juvenile prank that goes horribly awry.

Flash forward to the future: Time-traveling gets to be a habit with Evan, as he tries, again and again, to save himself, grownup Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and others from awful fates. Soon enough, all of this becomes unbearably tiresome, and very, very silly.

The Butterfly Effect, alternately dark and accidentally campy, borrows a concept or two from Back to the Future and Groundhog Day but boasts none of those films' smarts, inspiration or first-rate performances.

The Butterfly Effect

Grade: C-

Directors: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber

Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Kevin Schmidt, Melora Walters, Elden Henson, Eric Stoltz, John Patrick Amedori, Cameron Bright, William Lee Scott

Screenplay: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber

Rating: R; violence, profanity, nudity

Running time: 113 min.