CHAOS THEORY is a torpid piece of filmmaking that is at once a fluffy drama and a dreary comedy. Like its hero, Frank (Ryan Reynolds), it’s decided never to make a definite decision and the shambles that results is as predictable as the story of which it is part. The story is told in flashback, as Frank catches his soon-to-be son-in-law looking for a back exit from his wedding and decides to tell the young man the story of his own marriage’s ups and downs. It’s a precious conceit designed for a big reveal at the end that is undercut by the premature resolution in the past of story being told.
Back then, Frank was an efficiency expert on the rise on the corporate lecture circuit. After eight years and one daughter, though, his list-making and statistic-quoting, so endearing at first, have begun to annoy his lovely wife, Susan (Emily Mortimer), much like the film has begun annoy its viewer. She decides to sneak an extra 10 minutes into Frank’s day by resetting the clock. Unfortunately, she sets it in the wrong direction, causing him to be 10 minutes late for the ferry, which he misses, and thereby making him more than an hour late for his lecture, the topic of which is effective time management. He’s ticked, he does something unfortunate, and before you can say Tangerini, the drink that helps him unwind into despair, his entire life as he knew it is lying in shambles around him. One might have seen it coming in the first glimpse given of the couple, wherein Susan chooses to marry Frank because of all her men friends, he had the best name for his organ of generation. That and Frank’s best pal, Buddy (Stuart Townsend) warning him on the fateful New Year’s Eve when Frank and Susan became engaged that she would leave him nothing but his bones.
There are no big surprises here after the initial set up. Misunderstandings abound, grown-ups act like children of a particularly petulant nature. The actors themselves are given the sketchiest of characters to enact. Townsend has a leer and a Porsche to work with. Susan spends her spare time at her daughter’s school, doing what, one it never told. The script is either underwritten, or its editing has taken a weak story and made it an oblique one as well. Adding to the misery is that it is all directed with an inert sense of schmaltz such that after a while it is all but impossible for the audience to pick up on any clues or cues as to what is intended to be funny and what poignant.
It ends with an attempt to merge physics and metaphysics with a final speech from Reynolds about the power of love that one can only suppose was not supposed to invoke the gag reflex. CHAOS THEORY goes through the motions of building to a climactic ending without ever actually building any interest in any of these people, much less suspense in what will become of them. There is only the slow, much too slow, creep towards the end credits that bring up another theory, that of relativity, as in making 90 minutes or so seem like an eternity.