Chaos Theory (2008)

Dir:- Marcos Siega

Starr:- Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Sarah Chalke

Scr:- Daniel Taplitz

DOP:- Ramsey Nickell

Producer(s):- Frederic Golchan, Erica Westheimer

I’m not the greatest fan of the whole romantic comedy genre, but that isn’t to say that I’m immune to its occasional charms. Every now and again a rom-com flick comes along that suckers me (When Harry Met Sally, Groundhog Day, Stranger than Fiction), in which case it will swiftly become a cherished part of my cinematic memory. Chaos Theory is not one of those movies.

It is always a bad sign when a film that has a less than ninety minute running time, feels as if it has overstayed its welcome. In the case of this Ryan Reynolds vehicle, there is about 45 minutes of Dice Man-lite idea, surrounded by some painfully earnest and dull cinematic emoting. Reynolds always leaves the impression that he is a talented actor desperately trying to break out of some horrid typecasting strait-jacket. Here he plays Frank Allen, a man who should be closer to his fifties, at the start of the film, despite the fact Reynolds himself was barely thirty at the time of shooting. Oddly, it is in the peculiar little scenes, that effectively frame the narrative of Frank’s life, that Reynolds seems to be most switched on, his intensity seeming less cringingly constipated and forced than it does at other points throughout the film.

It's really a movie about fatherhood. So why does it fail to develop the father/daughter relationship effectively?

Frank Allen is the father of the bride at a wedding that appears to be about to unravel. Catching his future son-in-law apparently sneaking out the back door on the day of the ceremony, Allen sits the young man down and menacingly offers up his wisdom on relationships. Director Siega uses the idea of chaos both as a plot device and a visual motif, so the events of Allen’s past satisfyingly refuse to cohere in any linear fashion, or at least this appears to be the case at first. In films like this, which hang somewhere between a thoroughly confected sense of reality and an unerringly accurate portrayal of little, ‘truthful’  moments of humanity, there is a tendency for the writer and director to create a world of extremes. Thus, Frank Allen is initially shown to be an absurdly anal, time-obsessed, control freak, something akin to John Cleese’s headmaster in Clockwise, only adequately attired for modern, corporate America. When Frank experiences the sudden, and rather exacting, intrusion of chaos into his cosseted little world of to-do lists and cue cards, then rather than go gently off the rails, he instead plumps for the exact opposite set of ideals to that which he has espoused throughout his life and work, thus far. Out goes caution, efficiency, planning and safety, and in comes chaos, fury, recklessness and whim. Such conversions are absurd, but then a gentle sense of absurdity is what underpins the genre.

What do you mean you can't resuscitate my career? I'm tired of being brought to the ER after every traumatic rom-com vehicle that I waste my talents in.

Reynolds seems to revel in playing the daftly unhinged, although this all-too-frequently plays to his hammy side at the expense of something more textured and interesting. Siega chooses to surround Reynolds’ Frank with an array of characters that remain almost exclusively two-dimensional, with the possible exception of Emily Mortimer as his errant wife Susan. Stuart Townsend, an Irish actor that seemed to have dropped off the Hollywood map in recent years, dials in a performance as Frank’s best friend and rival, Buddy. The limits of Siega’s ambition are clearly shown in the way in which he places these periphery characters within the restrictions of a circumscribed reality. Buddy is some kind of construction tycoon and thus the audience always sees him looking over some schematics on an unspecified building site. Another friend, Damon, is a lawyer, which means he must always be depicted in a suit, in his office. Susan, herself, is almost exclusively viewed within either the domestic space, or the school she teaches in. Obviously within films there is only so much a director can show of the ‘reality’ around their characters, however Siega seems to be following the well-worn conventions of the rom-com genre, that tends to locate its protagonists in an atomised and idealised world.

At heart this is essentially a film about love and fatherhood. The key relationships are between father and daughter, husband and wife. Despite some leaden dialogue (“It was like soft hotel porn – unsatisfying and sad”, for example) Taplitz’s script does mine some genuine human emotion, particularly when reflecting on notions of honesty and betrayal, which makes it all the more galling when Siega insists on underscoring every little moment of narrative subtlety with the anodyne bombast of some hideous AOR, string-laden, rock balladeering. In one nicely developed sequence, whereby Frank discovers the seeming betrayal at the core of his family from a doctor, Siega sabotages any sense of emotional pay-off by having Frank’s inner anguish compounded by the most bovine of soundtrack selections. No wonder Ryan Reynolds seems to be continually straining at the bit.

Ryan Reynolds is distraught, as Marcos Siega refuses to trust in his acting abilities and continues to insert those annoying harp, violin and earnest vocal stylings onto the soundtrack.

Ultimately Chaos Theory feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a film that starts off on a strangely intriguing note and then becomes increasingly bland and conventional. Mortimer does her best to lend the film some dramatic ballast, but much of her excellent work is undermined by the inanities of Siega’s direction and the lumpen dialogue of Taplitz’s script. The waste of genuine comic talent like Sarah Chalke only heightens the sense that Siega is nothing more than a helmer-for-hire, with little of the craft and artistry required to make this a meaningful entry into the genre. Reynolds is an actor that desperately deserves juicier material to flex his acting talents in (as the likes of Buried and Adventureland prove), but it will perhaps have to wait until he begins to grow out of the rom-com cul-de-sac he is presently trapped in.

Pros

  • It does attempt to put a nice little narrative spin on the usual father of the bride Hollywood tale.
  • Emily Mortimer is an actress seemingly incapable of giving a duff performance.
  • The initial chaos of Reynolds recollections is quite entertaining.

Cons

  • Like so many modern rom-coms it feels as if it is simply riffing off of tired old genre tropes, with little ingenuity going into its making.
  • Reynolds character is the only one that is developed in any meaningful way.
  • The soundtrack is truly appalling and unbelievably literal, featuring the kind of material I’d be embarrassed to hear my mother listening to.

Rating:- 3.5/10

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