He made a Hollywood career and won the heart of actress Demi Moore by inspiring laughs, but Ashton Kutcher’s serious side takes a bow in “The Butterfly Effect,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
For Kutcher, the role of A-student college kid Evan Treborn is a risky choice given the film’s subject matter --pedophilia. But it could go a long way toward changing the funny-guy image he has created playing charming yet dim-witted slackers on TV comedy “That ’70’s Show,” and in films like ”Dude, Where’s My Car.”
Sundance is the top gathering in the United States for independent films and thousands of people flock here every year to see movies made outside the major Hollywood studios, often because the subject matter may lack broad, popular appeal.
The festival kicked off Thursday and climaxes in an awards ceremony Saturday, Jan. 24. It officially ends Sunday.
“Butterfly Effect,” which debuts in theaters nationwide Friday, was made by a pair of first-time filmmakers, Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, and stars Kutcher as a college student dealing with a childhood traumatized by sexual abuse.
It is one of the few films at Sundance this year to have the backing of a movie distributor, New Line Cinema, before the screening, because with Kutcher’s huge fan base, “Butterfly Effect” is nearly certain to draw crowds into theaters.
The premiere late Saturday night was filled with screaming fans craining their necks to catch a glimpse of Kutcher’s entrance with Moore. It created a fervor that rivaled Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt in 2002 or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez last year.
Freaky or smart?Kutcher, who studied engineering as a student, said that in five years on “70’s Show,” he has been dogged by questions of whether he could break out of the comedy mold, but he has never worried about whether Hollywood would type cast him.
“Nobody can pigeonhole someone else. You pigeonhole yourself by what you do and the choices that you make and your ability to do other things,” Kutcher said.
The actor said he was not looking for a movie that was a serious drama or that might change his career’s direction. He said he simply liked “Butterfly Effect” and felt its story might make people be conscious of choices they make.
“My biggest question was, what was the directors’ vision,” he said. “Were they trying to make a freaky thriller movie, or were they trying to make something smarter than that.”
The basic idea behind “Butterfly Effect” is that decisions create a wave of consequences over a lifetime. In the case of Treborn (Kutcher), audiences learn that he and his best friends are victimized as kids by a pedophile.
Fast forward to Treborn in college studying the science of the brain. He stumbles onto his ability to travel back in time through his memories, and he attempts to return to his past, confront the pedophile and change events that took place.
The problem, however, is that the changes have their own consequences that alter his current life and the lives of his friends, including his childhood sweetheart, Kayleigh (Amy Smart), whom he still loves.
“Butterfly Effect” is at once science fiction, romance and a cautionary tale. It is no “Dude, Where’s My Car.”
Bress and Gruber tried to get the movie funded for seven years before Kutcher stepped in. The star said he was concerned about working with first-time filmmakers, so he took a role as an executive producer to exert some measure of control.
He knows there is risk involved in working in a movie that his legions of fans will find far different, yet he adds with the characteristic smile of a confident guy: “The more risk you take, the more reward there can be.”