Chaos Theory is not as scientific as it sounds, unless you are referring to the formulaic plot of this standard romantic comedy. In fact, the only lab involved in this movie is used during a urine test. What elevates this film from mediocrity, however, is the quick-witted dialogue from writer Daniel Taplitz as well as a strong performance from actor Ryan Reynolds.
Reynolds plays Frank Allen, a speaker on the business lecture circuit who gives talks on efficient time management. When his wife, Susan (Emily Mortimer) intentionally sets the clock ahead ten minutes on the day of a big lecture in a misguided attempt to give him more time, she sets into motion the events that unravel Frank’s compulsively-ordered existence.
Susan’s gaffe initially causes Frank to miss the ferry to his conference. This flings him into situations for which he hadn’t planned: a near affair with a business-class seductress (Sarah Chalke) and a car accident with a woman who just happens to be in labor. It is from this premise that Chaos Theory gets its name-the theory that small, unrelated events can conspire to thwart someone’s best-laid plans.
In the process of trying to prove to Susan that the woman he drove to the hospital is not his mistress, he takes a urine test, which reveals that Frank is not the father of the baby. It also reveals Frank has Klinefelter’s syndrome, rendering him infertile and incapable of having fathered the seven-year-old Jesse Allen (Matreya Fedor), who is waiting patiently for him to return home.
Devastated by his wife’s infidelity and the possible loss of his daughter, Frank decides to never make a decision again. Frank’s fluctuations between the lists that have defined his life and this new last decision, keep his flirtations with suicide, binge drinking and a generally reckless lifestyle, surprisingly light-hearted. Frank’s friend Buddy (Stuart Townsend) even makes a misguided attempt to cheer Frank up.
Every guy has a Buddy-the old friend who has never settled down, leaves wives worrying on guys-night-out and thinks that a bouquet or two of red roses guarantees forgiveness. As the life-long mutual friend of the Allens, Buddy is the perfect foil to Frank and always manages to keep the conflict close to home; especially when it is discovered that he is Jesse’s biological father. With the help from his trusty index cards, even Frank’s moments of malice devolve into an exchange of heavy-handed puns and slapstick antics.
Between Definitely, Maybe, this film, and his current project, The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds is on his way to establishing a reputation in the realm of the romantic comedy. Though Reynolds’ character in Chaos occasionally relapses into something vaguely resembling Van Wilder, his inability to control defining events of his own life is something with which the audience can identify.
Chaos Theory is certainly a divergence from previous movies exploring the subject, such as Butterfly Effect and Pi. The moral of this movie, however, is one regarding love and forgiveness rather than the science of cause and effect. Multiple scenes, including the loosely connected wedding scenes that bookend the film, make Chaos Theory seem longer than it needs to be. It feels as if these scenes were tacked on to reach the romantic comedy golden time of 90 minutes. Chaos Theory might have been better served by a divergence from the time tested romantic comedy form, but it seems it just wasn’t in the cards.