Of the many facile ironies at play in Chaos Theory, the title may be the biggest: How can a movie so stuffed with writerly contrivances call itself Chaos Theory? Only in Hollywood could a film pretending to embrace the disorder of the universe feel so thoroughly mapped-out, airless, and lacking in spontaneity. Granted, the science of chaos theory describes what's popularly known as the "butterfly effect," when one flap of the wings reverberates in an unanticipated and seemingly random sequence of events, but the appearance of chaos is crucial, and that's where the film seems canned. In tracing an efficiency expert's collapse from order to disorder, director Marcos Siega and writer Daniel Taplitz mean to express life as a seat-of-the-pants journey that the expert's patented index cards can't manage. But can this be done in a movie that's obviously been plotted on index cards?


Continuing to baby-step away from his Van Wilder image, Ryan Reynolds plays a buttoned-down author of The Five Minute Efficiency Trainer, a manual that teaches business types to order their affairs via lists and index cards. The morning of one of Reynolds' seminars, his wife Emily Mortimer attempts to relieve the stress of his day by changing the time on the kitchen clock, but she accidentally moves it 10 minutes backward instead of forward. As a result, he misses the morning ferry and shows up an hour late to a seminar about, among other things, the importance of being timely. From there, his day spins out of control as he barely thwarts the advances of a drunken seductress, gets mistaken as the husband of the mother-to-be he rescues from a crash, and reels over a dramatic revelation from the past involving his wife and his best friend, Stuart Townsend.

Much like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, Michael Douglas in Falling Down, and Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Reynolds plays a middle-aged, middle-class family man who cracks under pressure and abruptly stops playing by the rules. In spite of scenes where he streaks at a hockey game or otherwise behaves recklessly, his breakdown doesn't manifest itself as comedy, yet it doesn't work as drama, either, even though there's a major plot twist that would send any man curling into a fetal ball. The big reason Chaos Theory doesn't work is that the gears are visibly grinding away, cranking out neat little ironies and life lessons without any liberating surprises. At least the like-themed The Butterfly Effect had the guts to fly completely off the rails.