Me and my friend watched The Butterfly Effect in a Not Entirely Lucid [NEL] state a few years ago, and both LOVED IT. Not because it’s good, but because it combines mega-cheesiness with a teens-eye view of what is like totally serious and deep, dude—and I mean, like, TOTALLY—in addition to time-travel / changing the future / alternate reality stuff that I could just sit and watch forever, regardless of how bad the movie is [witness my wide-eyed glee during A Sound of Thunder], so when I saw that there was direct-to-DVD sequel I was ON that shit, albeit with a few reservations and a queasy feeling that it might be totally horrible and make me feel a little nauseous.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when I was sitting there saying “Woah, the leads are pretty good. Oh, they have an idea that they’ve tied the story around. Wow, that was a nasty car crash…” until it occurred to me: I was LIKING it! A lot! In fact, I think it’s better than the first one! This, after a short survey of the user and external reviews on the IMDb, turns out to be the minority opinion, as NO ONE likes it. A few say it’s not as bad as it could be. Whatever, dude, I thought it was swWEET!
So we open with Eric Lively from The L Word as Nick with his girlfriend Julie [Erica Durance from Smallville] and friends Trevor and Amanda on some Pacific Northwest lakeside on Julie’s birthday. We find out that Julie and Nick have been together three years, and receive a hint that Julie is pregnant. They go off by themselves and Julie says she has something to tell Nick, but he says “Me first,” and tells her something pointless, then his cell rings. She tells him not to answer it, “I wanted to tell you something,” she says, but he “just checks.” Then it’s work, so he takes it, then he says he has to cut their day short and return to work for a meeting, or risk someone else getting a promotion instead of him. Julie’s a little annoyed, and explicitly tells him not to go, but he doesn’t listen.
On the ride back they have a blowout and get SMASHED by a truck in an accident I found quite nasty and effective [although there is a major gaffe as the car changes its angle of impact in the middle of the accident]. Nick is in a coma for a while, and when he wakes he finds that Julie and his friends are dead. An unspecified amount of time later he’s back at work, receiving more than a dollop of snide attitude by his dick superior at work, Bristol. He goes into this business pitch meeting where they are hoping to launch some further pointless advance in mobile networking. You will note that Nick is pitching the creation of a technology similar to the one that ruined his life. In the middle of the pitch Nick starts to see the photo on the monitor start to shake in the same way as the time-travel effect of the first movie [the movie just counts on your knowledge of the first film and doesn’t take time to explain any of it], and Nick has a total breakdown in front of his prospective clients. I found this to be fairly effective if you take away the sci-fi sheen and consider that in terms of subtext this is about how grief over Julie’s death, which was caused by Nick’s commitment to the very job he is now at, makes him break down and become unable to continue that job. He is sent home for a forced week’s vacation, despite his protestations that he “NEEDS to work,” [i.e. to maintain his sanity].
At the time of the accident, Julie was turned around in the car seat, taking pictures. Nick now looks at the pictures and sees the shaky effect, which we know means that he is [inexplicably] transporting himself back to the time the picture was taken. Then there he is, back in the car. He is a little amazed as he has a massive déjà vu experience, knowing everything that will be said as it is said, but then he tells Julie to put her seat belt back on. He guns the accelerator at just the right moment—and they survive the accident.
Then Nick wakes up in his apartment, decorated all different, and then all of a sudden Julie comes around the corner. Now, earlier in the movie I had thought that both Eric Lively and Erica Durance were pretty good, but it was during this scene, when Nick reacts to finding Julie suddenly alive again after a year, that I started to be VERY impressed with them both—but especially him. Far from “just having to look dazed,” as another review states, he has to go through a lot of emotional states, stages of utter disbelief and levels of unrestrained joy, and he handles them all brilliantly. It’s a hard thing to do, and his reactions struck me as quite believable. Go Eric! Then they go on to have the quite overlong softcore sex scene as demanded by the strictures of direct-to-DVD releases, but to my surprise both of them stayed in character during it—and it was actually pretty hot. During this scene there is mournful string music playing, which helps keep the scene just this side of softcore cheese, and reminds us that the tone of these movies is one of unending grief and regret. Then he re-meets Trevor and Amanda, with a similar reaction of overflowing joy at seeing them again. Lively here looks a bit like Craig Bierko in The Thirteeth Floor, another sci-fi film about alternate realities that sustains a mournful tone and includes scenes of characters seeing each other after they were killed in a previous reality.
SPOILERS > > >
But come to find out that Julie doesn’t particularly LIKE Nick in this reality. He tells off Bristol the prick in this version, and loses his job. Julie is pissed that he just expects her to work, and we find that she’s bitter about losing the baby, which apparently happened in the accident. So they have a strained relationship, and then Nick sees himself in a picture at a holiday party, and is so pissed at Bristol [who fired both him and Trevor] that he transports himself into the picture just to throw a glass of wine at Bristol’s crotch—which apparently results in Nick being Vice President instead of Bristol. He has an amazing apartment and is obviously a lot richer—but no Julie. Some more stuff happens, with Nick soon discovering that the company is bankrupt, and Trevor being beaten up by thugs who want their money back, as the thug’s gay assistant watches. After another extended and utterly superfluous—but also hot—sex scene with the boss’s daughter, Nick finds that he has broken up with Julie. He tries to get back with her… but the thugs come down and kill her! Then the next time he wakes after that someone is blowing him under the covers—and it turns out to be the male assistant to the thugs! Nick reacts which barely-concealed disgust, and while I appreciate that they restrained themselves from actually having him throw up, he didn’t need to be QUITE so disgusted. At least the gay thug actually looks and seems gay and was quite a bit older than Nick, which was just off enough to make it seems somehow convincing.
Anyway, finally Mom shows up to deliver some down-home advice, which we know must be true [movie moms are almost always right] and also lets us know that the movie is going to end soon. She tells him that his father had the same things, and that you have to just let go and not try to control everything. Sage advice, mom. Anyway, eventually Nick goes back to the moment by the lakeside, and he breaks up with Julie, telling her to go to New York and pursue her dream of being a photographer. She’s devastated, but he’s final about it. At the end he saves her from the accident again, then drives his own car off the cliff, killing himself. We see Julie now in New York, presumably with a successful photography career, and a little boy, the son of Nick. We have a last, sequel-baiting bit about the boy having inherited the same ability to change the past, and the end.
This ending recalls the BOTH the theatrical and director’s cut ending of the first film, in which [FIRST FILM SPOILER!] Ashton goes all the way back to the womb and aborts himself, accepting that everyone involved would have been better off had he never been born. In the theatrical version he goes back and breaks up with his GF, only to have it implied that he meets her as an adult and they have a hot relationship. The ending here wasn’t so satisfying—why didn’t he just go back and not take the call from work?—but I found the whole thing so fun and intriguing I didn’t care that much.
< < < SPOILERS END
Both films have a tone of romantic tragedy and regret, but the first one is much more focused on its main character’s entire life going back to childhood, whereas this one is just about Nick’s adult life and relationship. Thing is, the first one was stuffed with all sorts of inappropriately serious subject matter—child porn, animal torture, etc.—that, in its teen movie context, just made the entire enterprise seem silly. Sillier than the premise already is, I’m saying. It was also trying so desperately hard to be hard-hitting that one just started to laugh at it. This one is more limited in scope, but I think that works in its favor by keeping the subjects in an easily digestible form.
What’s more, this movie has an overarching idea, which is that it is soul-deadening work for the man that is the real problem. None of this would have happened to Nick if he had just not accepted that cell phone call and spent his day with Julie. He would have probably lost his job, but the movie makes it clear that it is the job itself that is ruining his life. As the film goes on, Nick gets richer and more senior in his position, but this also takes him away from Julie and the things he cares about. Almost everything bad that happens in the movie comes as a result of Nick’s job and his obedient devotion to it. It’s a little funny, because the last thriller I watched, The Temp, also turned out to be about the soul-deadening nature of the office environment.
This film put me in mind that I would LOVE to have a series of films in which great directors take a totally cheesy crap movie that they like and re-shape it into something good. So like imagine Brian De Palma having a field day with the predestination of this movie or a Final Destination entry. What about Polanski doing The Killing Kind or The Baby? What about Spielberg doing Basket Case? What about Ron Howard doing—well how about Ron Howard just doesn’t make a movie, and THAT can be his contribution?
What else? The titles are so cheap and cheesy it’s a little embarrassing. We’re seriously talking local cable access capabilities here, and it’s a shame, because the rest of the movie looks reasonably good for a straight-to-video thingy. I only watched a bit of the “on the set” thing, in which they talk a great deal about how the whole thing was shot in 20 days, which made it just seem cheaper, but having watched the movie, I am suitably impressed that they whipped this together in that time. The director of this movie is mostly known as a cinematographer, having worked on The Woods, Honey, and The Scorpion King, among others.
So that’s it! Obviously not the best film, but if you liked the first one [or are just into time-travel mind-benders] this may surprise you by being better than one expects it to be. Of course, according to the IMDb, I am about the only one who feels that way, but I attribute lots of that simply to the distain directed toward direct-to-DVD sequels. I found this movie to be a strong variation on the original idea that adds a new subtext that mostly works, and features surprisingly good performances. Bring on number 3! I am SO there.
If you liked the first one or you like time-travel and alternate reality movies.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is the first film and is way over-serious in an amusing way, but is total mind-blowing fun from start to finish.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 3 is the next direct-to-DVD sequel, and leaves the romance behind and takes on amore direct horror aspect.
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR is also about virtual realities and altered timelines, and features a mournfully sad tone like this one.
A SOUND OF THUNDER is also about altering the past and messing with the future, in a way that produces giant killer animals!