When you take a film class, the first thing you're told is that if you can't capture the attention of your audience in the first five minutes, you will lose them for the duration of the narrative. For the most part, in practice, this is actually true. Think about the number of times you've waited for a film to get better and it simply hasn't, then you walk out of the theater lamenting the loss of those two hours of life.
In sharp contrast to this rule, Chaos Theory's first ten minutes are painful, followed by a moving journey that follows one couples' path to forgiveness after the realization of infidelity. The last few minutes mirror the beginning in their annoyingly simplistic banality, but the middle hour of the film is completely engaging. Even more impressive is that, though it is mainly Frank's (Ryan Reynolds) story, the separate actions of both he and his wife (Emily Mortimer) are treated as equally important in terms of how they impact their family unit. The chemistry between parents and child feel lived-in.
In flashback, Frank is revealed to be an efficiency expert that is just beginning to get hired for public speaking events after the recent publication of a booklet on saving time. At this first lecture, an attendee attempts to seduce Frank, whose wife, Susan, calls at an inopportune moment to hear another woman in the background. Frank escapes the room, remaining mostly faithful to his wife, but ends up in a car accident with a pregnant woman, whom he escorts to a hospital. His name ends up on the kid's birth certificate by mistake, which ends with Frank fighting against hard evidence that he's leading a double life. The tide turns, however, when DNA testing reveals that not only is he not the father of the baby in question, he's not the father of his own child either. He's sterile. Now Susan's past becomes an issue.
Normally you'd assume that the story of a guy breaking loose from his uptight foundations when everything he's known for eight years changes would be a blasé venture. After all, people are always changing their lives drastically in a movie when they find out something enormously upsetting. But Frank's internal battling, and the random explorations he invents for himself on index card lists, build nicely to support why he could choose to either return home or to stay away. For once, the requisite "best friend" character (Stuart Townsend) gets to do more than just show up to say a line you can predict from several scenes away. The acting of both Mortimer and Reynolds is superb, especially when they finally have a conversation about what his being a parent means to their child, regardless of biology.
It's unfortunate that a film that is only 86 minutes long is bracketed by 20 minutes of aggravation, bookends that almost feel like they were shot by PBS or Disney to cushion the adult content in the middle. The fairly unique ideas that Chaos Theory explores are worth watching if you can get past the schmaltz.
We're thinkin' babies.