My first thought after watching Chaos Theory, released on DVD this week after a lackluster theatrical release in which it only amassed a paltry $250,000, was that the movie was probably one of those films that sat on a shelf for several years, and that the studio — after Ryan Reynolds became a huge mega-star — decided to release it now to capitalize on his massive box-office prowess. But then I remembered, despite my own man-crush on Ryan Reynolds (temporarily suspended), that he doesn’t actually have much of a Hollywood presence and that these bland, forgettable romantic comedies are pretty much par for the course in his career. Then I consulted the Boozehound archives and found the appropriate alcoholic beverage with which to drown my sorrows, and began working my way toward a Level III hangover while listening to Alanis Morissette albums and surfing the Internet for a support group dedicated to adults who feel the pain of celebrity break-ups far too intensely.
I am so pathetic.
Chaos Theory is another in a long line of mediocre films devoted, thematically, to carpe diem, if seizing the day means doing everything a banal man going through a mid-age crisis would do. Frank (Reynolds) is an efficiency expert who gives corporate lectures devoted to the importance of time management, making lists, and never giving in to whim. In other words, he’s a guy with a huge stick up his butt (keep the jokes to yourself, people). However, he’s happily married to Susan (Emily Mortimer), who basically chose him as her husband eight years prior because, out of a group of four men, she preferred the nickname he had for his penis, which was — get this — “Truth.” (I’m not making this up). They have an eight year old daughter together.
(Mini-diversion: What do you call your funny business? Mine, according to the Penis Name Generator, is Gummi Worm)
However, Susan — occasionally annoyed by Frank’s anal retentiveness — decides one day to fuck with the clocks and alter his schedule. The result: He misses his ferry by one lousy minute, has to postpone his lecture by an hour, then nearly ends up sleeping with one of the members of the audience (Sarah Chalke in lingerie, people), before fleeing his hotel room and randomly stumbling upon a woman in labor, who he takes to the hospital. Misunderstandings pile on top of misunderstandings, and “comic” chaos ensues: Susan thinks that the baby is Frank’s and that he’s been leading a double life, which prompts Frank to get a paternity test to prove her wrong, which reveals that Frank is sterile and has been all his life, forcing him into only one logical conclusion: The baby that he’s been raising with Susan for eight years is not his own.
So, Frank falls into the same sort despair one achieves when he finds out his favorite celebrity couple is splitsville (I know, let it go, let it go) and decides via epiphany that, rather than living his structured life, he’s going to set his course by making a list of “outrageous” options and using them to randomly set his path. But like every other movie ever made about conservative people doing “wild and crazy shit” (see, e.g., The Bucket List), the choices he makes — ride a motorcycle! smoke cigarettes! go streaking at a hockey game! — are, like the movie, about as unpredictable as San Francisco’s weather.
In fact, there is nothing in Chaos Theory that hasn’t been mined six dozen times before, and the only interesting thing about the plot is its “The Simpson’s”-like trajectory: While it appears that the movie is going to be about one thing (Frank giving into whim), it turns into an almost completely different film about Frank coming to terms with the fact that his daughter does not biologically belong to him. Indeed, the film’s only redemptive qualities are in its cast: Mortimer is blithely adorable; Stuart Townsend, as Frank’s best friend, is decent, if not slightly wasted; while Reynolds has developed a second expression — wounded, heartbroken — to go along with the one-eyebrow sarcastic look that he and Jason Lee share. We can now consider him multi-faceted.
Still and all, it’s not a terrible movie, just a slightly below average one, hardly worth picking up the remote to turn on, but then again, not really worth the effort to changing the channel if it’s in your line of vision. It’s harmless, inoffensive, and genial, something to take your mind off the relationship struggles of Alanis Morissette for 90 minutes if you don’t have a lot of bourbon to spare.
But, on a side note, I do love Chaos Theory for one reason, and one reason alone: A couple of months ago, when the movie was initially released, I ran across Armond White’s New York Press review and wondered if he had used my hyperbolic, sarcastic James Lipton approach to review-writing when I read it, only to conclude that he’s being absolutely serious, which — in my eyes — makes it all the more hilarious. This guy may be the funniest fucking reviewer in the business. Here’s a taste:
Against the rank ineptitude of Leatherheads and the shameless stupidity of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, an excellent American romantic comedy has blessedly appeared … This humorous sense of what confounds people in their most personal interactions — the way Frank uncovers Susan’s sexual history and his own feelings of masculine camaraderie — links Taplitz to the screwball classicists that critics typically dredge up when writing about modern comic filmmakers. Even Reynolds’ controlled mania suggests Joel McCrea rather than Cary Grant, befitting a subtler screwball sensibility. Although Taplitz shows smarts to match Ernst Lubitsch and Samson Raphelson’s Continental sophistication, that’s not it. Neither does Frank’s stern lecture repeat Billy Wilder’s annoying mixture of cynicism and sentimentality. And Preston Sturges’ wild verbal dexterity isn’t it either. Taplitz stands alone, uniquely charting the insecurities of post-Production Code sex. That’s why Commandments satirized old-time morality to test modern-day fidelity … When Frank talks about phallic “Truth,” or the decor of his hotel assignation features vaginal Rorschach paintings, Taplitz is clearly on singular terrain.
And y’all think we’re pretentious.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Chaos Theory / Dustin Rowles
Film | June 12, 2008 | Comments ()