Judge Gordon Sullivan doesn't believe in chaos theory; he puts chaos into practice in his life every day.
He planned his life like clockwork. Now things are going cuckoo.
Life in the 21st century is a hectic mess for most, so it would seem logical that we would make heroes of those who have managed to tame the rat race by means of calendars, lists, and Palm Pilots. However, the opposite is usually true. In film after film we see examples of characters who are eventually forced to abandon the tenuous grip they hold on the chaos of modern life in favor of a more "stop and smell the roses" attitude. It's a fairly tired plot, but Chaos Theory runs with it, making the usually implicit element of chaos explicit, while taking the audience on a zany ride that doesn't lose sight of the emotional impact that our decisions cause.
Facts of the Case
Frank Allen (Ryan Reynolds, Definitely, Maybe) is a bland efficiency expert married to a formerly wild woman (Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl), and the two share a daughter. We enter the story on the day Frank is to give a big speech that will decide his fate on the corporate lecture circuit. Trying to help, his wife resets the clocks to give her husband an extra ten minutes. However, she sets them forward, giving Frank less time, causing him to miss the ferry. Frank is late to his lecture, which causes him to be angry with his wife. This anger clouds his judgment, and he gets drunk with an attractive woman from his lecture audience. When she tries to seduce him, he runs away, taking his car the long way home (since the ferry has stopped running). While on the way home, he almost gets into an accident because another driver is pregnant and about to give birth. Frank accompanies the woman to the hospital, and naturally his wife hears only the worst parts of the evening. She kicks Frank out, thinking he's cheating on her and has a baby with another woman. In an effort to prove his innocence, Frank makes several discoveries about himself and his wife that throw his perfectly balanced life out of whack. Formerly a disciple of the list, Frank decides to live by chance, writing his desires down on index cards and shuffling them to determine what he'll do next. But with a daughter and wife at home, Frank has to make some big decisions about what role chaos will play in his life.
The first 20 minutes of Chaos Theory should seem familiar to most viewers. The father of the bride (Reynolds' Frank Allen) sits down with is daughter's soon-to-be husband and tells him a story to help steady his nerves. From there, the film unfolds in flashback as we watch the fallout from a single innocent mistake. Unlike other films of this type, Chaos Theory does a fairly good job staying within the bounds of probability. Everything from the resetting of the clock to the hospital mixup seems odd and funny without straining the bounds of credibility. The reality of the situations that setup the rest of the plot make it easier to identify and sympathize with both Frank and his wife. We know he's innocent, but it's also easy to see how all of his actions could look really bad from another point of view. When the tables are turned after Frank's revelations, the tension becomes even more effective, as the film has made both characters sympathetic. This tension, more than the comedy, made Chaos Theory interesting to watch.
The performances from the three leads are the other aspect of Chaos Theory that makes it worth watching. Ryan Reynolds is convincing as a both a buttoned-up "efficiency expert" and as the more undone risk-taker he becomes. His performance really sells the somewhat improbable occurrences that begin the film. Emily Mortimer succeeds as the wounded wife and manages to maintain sympathy throughout the course of the film. Stuart Townsend plays a rakish fifth wheel, adding tension to the main plot between Frank and his wife without ever overshadowing them.
The DVD from Warner Bros. is a model of efficiency that would make Frank proud. On one disc we get both full frame and anamorphic transfers. Chaos Theory doesn't look bad on this disc, but I would have liked a little more detail and extra pop from the colors. The audio does just what it needs to, conveying balanced dialogue and music. The only extra is a collection of additional scenes totaling five minutes, which is a disappointment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Chaos Theory doesn't break any new ground. From beginning to end there are no big surprises as we watch Frank's journey from efficiency expert to king of chaos. There are also no big laughs in the film, so those looking for the next Apatow-style comedy will be disappointed.
I went in expecting little from Chaos Theory and was pleasantly surprised when I found it as enjoyable as I did, so the lack of extras was a real disappointment, as I wanted to know more about the genesis and production of the film. Also, considering the strength of the performances, it would have been nice to hear the actors discuss their roles.
Chaos Theory succeeds as a low-key carpe diem comedy. If this brand of comedy is your bag, then a rental of this disc is easy to recommend. It won't change your life, but it will provide 87 minutes of light entertainment and strong performances. Although the audiovisual presentation of the film is strong, the DVD is sadly lacking in the extras department.
Chaos Theory is guilty of being an efficient little comedy. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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