Chaos Theory (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I have a strong dislike for artificial drama - stories where the so-called "characters" are little more than pawns for the screenplay to move around like pieces on a chess board. Such is the unfortunate case with Chaos Theory, a bogus and unconvincing narrative that pretends to deal with real human issues like betrayal and paternity. Chaos Theory stumbles from one contrived circumstance to the next, and there's not a moment in this entire mess that conveys any sort of genuine human emotion or reaction. Even the dialogue rings false. Director Marcos Seiga has done a lot of work for television, and that's what this feel like: a rejected television pilot. (And when one considers that kind of shows that make it to the air, that's saying a lot.)

Nothing in Ryan Reynolds' body of work has convinced me he is capable of providing an effective dramatic performance, and Chaos Theory doesn't supply enough evidence to force a reconsideration. Reynolds, playing the lead, acts like he's in a sit-com and the resulting contrast in tone between the subject matter and the way Reynolds approaches it is jarring. It's impossible to take Reynolds' character seriously regardless of whether he's in a manic or a depressed state. Some of this is because of the script, which fails to treat its participants with respect or sympathy. However, rather than attempting to bring out the humanity in the protagonist, Reynolds distances us further from a man who becomes a parody of a human being.

Chaos Theory follows the marital misadventures of Frank (Ryan Reynolds), a thirty-something efficiency expert who lives his days by strict schedules and the lists he makes on note cards. One day, he leaves home late when his wife, Susan (Emily Mortimer), erroneously sets the kitchen clock back by ten minutes. This causes him to miss his ferry and, as a result, to be late for a lecture he is scheduled to give. The day's events continue to spiral out-of-control when an innocent flirtation nearly turns into a drunken roll in the hay and his good Samaritan act of transporting a pregnant woman to the hospital results in his name appearing in the "father" space on the birth certificate. Susan receives a call from the hospital and becomes convinced Frank has cheated. When Frank takes a test to disprove his paternity, he receives a shock. He is sterile, so who fathered his seven-year old daughter, Jesse (Matreya Fedor)? It couldn't possibly be his best friend, Buddy (Stuart Townsend), could it?

The acting is disappointing across-the-board. The flat performance by Reynolds is not a surprise, but the shrill, unappealing turn by Emily Mortimer is. Over the years, Mortimer has shown herself to be a fine actress, but there is a scene in Chaos Theory, where she implores Frank to consider Jesse to be his daughter, in which Mortimer's delivery can best be described as cringe-inducing. Stewart Townsend provides little in the way of energy; he's like a repressed version of Jude Law. One could make a convincing case that young Matreya Fedor is the most impressive performer to cross the screen during the course of this movie. She's likeable and genuinely "gets" her character, which is more than can be said about any of the adults.

There's an interesting idea buried inside Chaos Theory's screenplay. At one point, Frank writes all the things he would like to do at some time during his life on index cards. He then randomly picks one and this becomes his objective for the day (or the moment). He decides to live his life by choosing cards, essentially giving over the day-to-day planning of his schedule to random chance. I can see the appeal of that approach and the way it might make the core of an engaging movie. Unfortunately, it's a plot device here, discarded almost as soon as it's presented.

Chaos Theory's central contrivance - that Susan would believe her husband capable of leading a double life and that this accusation would result in Frank doubting his paternity - could be accepted in a movie that treated the circumstances seriously rather than as a semi-comedic setup. Director Siega can't make up his mind whether he wants his viewers to laugh or cry and his indecision results in winces. Often, I condemn dramas for being overly sentimental; this could have used a little more mawkishness. It's emotionally barren. The movie sacrifices meaningful characters in favor of a belabored plot that ultimately preaches the most banal lessons about marriage and family. Chaos Theory isn't long (just under 90 minutes), but it's long enough to provide a hollow feeling to those who stay for the duration .

Chaos Theory (United States, 2007)

Director: Marcos Siega
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Matreya Fedor
Screenplay: Daniel Taplitz
Cinematography: Ramsey Nickell
Music: Gilad Benamram
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1