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Chaos Theory

A Career-Making Performance

Sometimes when you least expect it -- when you think you have a film pegged by the synopsis, by the trailer, by a TV ad, or even by the lead actor prominently featured in the marketing campaign -- you end up completely surprised. Chaos Theory surpasses expectations, due to both its script, which expertly handles a wide range of tonal shifts, and its lead actor, Ryan Reynolds, best known as a co-lead on unlamented sitcom, "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place", which ended its network run seven years ago, the lead role in a frat comedy, Van Wilder, and the unfunny comic sidekick in the sublimely awful Blade: Trinity.

Director Marcos Siega and writer Daniel Taplitz structure Chaos Theory around the wedding of Frank (Ryan Reynolds) and Susan Allenís (Emily Mortimer) only daughter, Jesse (Elisabeth Harnois). At the wedding, a grizzled Frank catches the groom, Ed (Mike Erwin), having second thoughts. Frank decides to regale Ed with the events surrounding the roughest patch in his marriage to Susan. First, though, he flashes back twenty years to the night when Susan chose him, almost randomly, as her life partner, much to the disappointment of Frankís best friend, Buddy Endrow (Stuart Townsend).

Chaos Theory then jumps ahead eight or nine years as Frank, an efficiency expert and motivational speaker who anchors his life down to the minute, misses a ferry to a motivational seminar thanks to Susanís decision to push the clocks back in their house by ten minutes. Missing the ferry throws Frankís ordered life into chaos. At first, itís just arriving late to a time-management seminar. Later, he meets one of the attendees, Paula Crowe (Sarah Chalke), a woman less interested in the seminar and more in bedding Frank. This leads to a pregnant woman in need of medical care and, before long, a misunderstanding between Frank and Susan leaves Frankís once comfortable life upside down.

Frankís path to self-knowledge and redemption, ending, as it usually does, in acceptance and love, involves a series of revelations that challenge him to become a better person, accepting flaws and mistakes in others. As trite and sentimental as that might sound, itís not so much Chaos Theoryís message or theme that makes it worth seeing (well, thatís part of it), but rather how Siega and Taplitz get Frank and, by extension, us, there. While Chaos Theory dips into sentimentality on occasion, it doesnít stay there for long. What it does do, however, is shift from comedy to drama and back to comedy again, throwing human foibles into sharp relief with an irony-free straightforwardness thatís all the more welcome for its rare appearance in a Hollywood film.

Itís Ryan Reynolds, though, that really makes Chaos Theory. Over the last three or four years, Reynolds has tried to shed strictly comedic roles for more serious ones, with mixed success and even less commercial interest (his last film, The Nines received a limited theatrical release only a handful of moviegoers noticed). Here, Reynolds gives a subtle, expressive performance that, once, not too long ago, seemed beyond his talent or skills (that was as surprising to you as it was for me to write). Reynolds was no doubt helped by a strong supporting cast, specifically Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl, Match Point, Young Adam), an underrated British actress who deserves more time in front of the camera, and Irish actor Stuart Townsend (Night Stalker, Queen of the Damned), as Frankís irresponsible, womanizing best friend.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars