Kutcher Yearns to Be Taken Seriously

Ashton Kutcher taken seriously as a thespian? It's no more unlikely than his tabloid-topping love affair with Demi Moore — and, no, you're not getting punk'd.

Double-Oscar winner Tom Hanks started as a cross-dressing goofball on TV's Bosom Buddies. Bachelor Party and some of his other early films were as subtle and sophisticated as Dude, Where's My Car? — Kutcher's most celebrated film effort to date.

Who thought Robin Williams would win an Academy Award back when he was best known as Mork from Ork? And who now doubts the acting ability of Bill Murray, who's gone from Meatballs to possible Oscar contender for his work in Lost in Translation?

Of course, there's a little thing called talent … and just because you can make TV audiences laugh doesn't mean you can carry a big-screen drama. Still, you have to admire Kutcher for gambling on The Butterfly Effect, opening today, just as he's riding high on the success of That '70s Show and Punk'd.

Kutcher can star in just about any comedy and expect a long line of teens to vault him to the upper reaches of the box office. His last starring romp, Just Married, opened at No. 1, raking in a respectable $17.5 million its first weekend.

But The Butterfly Effect is an R-rated supernatural thriller, and that might exclude his younger fans. This is a violent movie with graphic violence and disturbing images of pedophilia.

Kutcher plays college student Evan Treborn, who goes back in time by reading his old journals in hopes of reversing a wretched childhood. But each time Kutcher goes back, he returns to the present finding things even more screwed up — and none of it is played as the sort of pranks he's so famous for on his MTV show.

Even Kutcher was uncharacteristically serious in interviews plugging the film, speculating on how each of us is haunted by our past.

"Can we go back and change mistakes that we have made, things that we have done wrong? Absolutely," he says. "You can call that person up or get with that person and go, I made a mistake. I screwed up."

The movie's title refers to chaos theory — that a butterfly could flap its wings in Brazil and cause a tornado in Texas.

Kutcher's character becomes obsessed with his childhood journals, and learns to go back in time by meditating over especially traumatic experiences that he had blocked out of his memory.

But is it possible to undo the damage done to an abused child? Kutcher's efforts even to save the life of a savagely abused pet meet with disastrous results.

"I thought, in real life, what would this guy's illness be, and I kind of likened it with post-traumatic stress disorder," Kutcher says. "He blocks out all the bad moments in his life, and I thought to myself, 'Wow, what a fantastic metaphor for how people are in everyday life.' "

Many films have also tangled with the ripple effects of time travel. But The Butterfly Effect — which also features Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, Melora Walters and William Lee Scott — is hardly a remake of Back to the Future.

Many times, the audience witnesses Evan's childhood dog, a white terrier, being tied in a sack, doused with lighter fluid, and burned to death.

The brutal imagery might make some audience members go back in time and reverse their decision of buying a ticket to this film.

But Kutcher believes in the film's psychological twists, and he's glad to have taken a chance on this project.

"I don't want to get bored," he told reporters at the Sundance Film Festival, where The Butterfly Effect premiered over the weekend.

"I don't want people who come to see my movies to think they know what they're going to get each time, because I want to keep doing something different and keep it interesting."