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Friday, April 11, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Chaos Theory" is a little too disorderly

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Chaos Theory," with Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Sarah Chalke, Mike Erwin. Directed by Marcos Siega, from a screenplay by Daniel Taplitz. 86 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language. Guild 45th.

The young actor Ryan Reynolds has the sort of blandly dazzling handsomeness that Hollywood loves, and he's quickly made plenty of movies that show off his features ("The Amityville Horror," much of which he spent improbably shirtless) and his likable demeanor (the recent "Definitely, Maybe") rather more than his acting chops. In "Chaos Theory," an odd little dark comedy from director Marcos Siega ("Pretty Persuasion"), he gets a few moments of being an actor, and he runs with it. In an early scene, when his straight-arrow character's gotten unexpectedly drunk, he finds a wonderful note of sad befuddlement, staring at his strange ultramodern hotel room (the art on the wall resembles dental X-rays) as if he's somehow been teleported to a different, grimmer planet.

It's a fine performance; too bad it's lost in a muddled movie. Daniel Taplitz's screenplay has plot to burn, and some of it feels like ashes. Reynolds plays Frank Allen, an ultra-organized time-management expert who's made a living from his system of efficient living. "Those who fail to control whim are destined to be controlled by it," he says, busily writing things down on index cards. One day, his wife, Susan (Emily Mortimer), sets the clocks back 10 minutes (she meant to set them forward) to loosen him up a bit, and the result is a long string of bizarre occurrences and encounters that ultimately reveal to Frank an unexpected truth about his life.

All this is told in flashbacks, lumpily encased in a present-day story in which Reynolds plays a middle-age Frank at the wedding of his grown daughter. (The camera, knowing Reynolds doesn't remotely look old enough to have fathered an adult, elaborately avoids him at first, like he's the Elephant Man.)

"Chaos Theory" goes to some pretty dark places (it's almost a daylight "After Hours"), but it feels too slight to support the journey; it's a sometimes awkward mix of character comedy and grim family drama. Mortimer, always a pleasure to watch, gets stuck in a bland wife role; Stuart Townsend has to negotiate some wild plot twists as Frank's pal Buddy.

By the movie's end, as Frank learns that "there are few things more chaotic than the beat of a human heart," "Chaos Theory" becomes a sweet tale of acceptance — it's an ending that almost seems intended for a different movie. It's swift and watchable enough, and the actors keep things interesting, but ultimately the movie falls short. You wish, like Frank might, that the screenplay had a little less chaos and a little more balance.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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