New Line's production of a half-assed sequel to a mediocre sci-fi thriller causes the destruction of Judge Joel Pearce's afternoon one thousand miles away.
Our review of The Butterfly Effect 2 (Blu-ray), published August 1st, 2012, is also available.
Can you change your past without destroying your future?
In some ways, it's hard to blame studios for remakes like this. Bean counters must love pitches for movies like The Butterfly Effect 2: take a popular movie, write a script built around the same premise, hire some b-list actors to populate the frame, crank it out in a 20-day shoot, rip off the name of the original, and hope that people will snap it up when it comes to DVD.
The concept does remain intriguing. Nick Larson (Eric Lively, The L Word) loses his girlfriend Julie (Erica Durance, Smallville) in a car accident, only to learn that he has the power to go back and change that single event. Doing so allows her to live, but he finds that he doesn't like some of the other things that have changed. He makes another change, and then another, but soon things are spiraling out of control. Can he save her and not ruin everything else?
The actual butterfly effect is a concept in chaos theory that explores how interconnected everything in our universe truly is. One tiny change in behavior can alter any number of things, all over the world. It's a scary notion, and one that has a solid mathematical basis. The problem with The Butterfly Effect 2 is that it doesn't take this concept nearly far enough. The film restricts itself to Nick's personal career goals. The main focus of his changes? Whether or not he gets a promotion at work. Will his girlfriend break up with him? Will his best friend get in trouble with a tough investor? If the flap of a butterfly's wing can cause a tornado somewhere across the world, how big an impact would a change in life or death have?
I remember other films and television shows that have explored this same idea. It's a Wonderful Life is a heartwarming study of the impact one person has on his community. A great episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a nightmarish, apocalyptic look at what would have happened if Buffy had never arrived in town. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly watches himself disappear. Run Lola Run has incredible, futuristic sequences that show the difference a single second makes. In all of these examples, inventive use is made of the butterfly effect idea to create great drama. Here, Nick freaks out to learn that he's broken up with his girlfriend but is getting it from his boss' hot daughter in a flimsy excuse for a softcore sex scene. If you're going to do mind-bending sci-fi, go big or go home.
To be fair, most of the actors put a lot of effort into their roles. Eric Lively delivers a subtle, intelligent performance that deserves to be in a much better film. The supporting cast is also strong, as though completely unaware of the type of film they are in. The script is also well written, sidestepping the melodrama so often found in B grade sequels. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the first half an hour of The Butterfly Effect 2. It only starts to fall apart when gratuitous sex scenes begin slipping into the ever more predictable story. There are a few serious plot holes, including an obvious drop in the opening sequence that disappears completely, only to resurface as a twist ending. In a movie that promises shocking twists and turns, it should stay one step ahead of us and not the other way around. This lack of surprise is my biggest disappointment. I watch thrillers in the hope that they will shock me, surprise me, or at least get me to think. This film does none of the above.
I have always been impressed with New Line's commitment to delivering solid DVDs of their most humble titles. True to form, The Butterfly Effect 2 has a strong video transfer, with good detail and no visible flaws. The sound transfer makes excellent use of all channels, including healthy rear soundstage and some thumping bass. There's a commentary with the director and producer, which shows the energy that went into the production. There's also a short production featurette that covers the short, frantic shoot. It's this enthusiasm from cast and crew that keep the film from being completely unwatchable. With a bit more ambition, I believe that John Leonetti could deliver much better films in the future.
If you really enjoyed The Butterfly Effect, it might actually be worth giving the sequel (in name only) a rental spin. It's not a good film, but it's surprisingly heartfelt and well-intentioned. Just don't write me a nasty email when you're disappointed by the lackluster second half. Serious fans of science fiction and complex storytelling are better off leaving this on the shelf. This idea has been handled with much more intelligence in the past, and will probably be handled much better in the future.
John Leonetti is given a strict warning. Next time, make your own good film instead of piggybacking someone else's successful idea: it will give you the freedom to make a film truly worth watching.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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