Those who enjoy boating need lifejackets the way that Type A personalities need index cards. Whether it’s making flashcards for Spanish class or jotting down notes for a speaking engagement, it’s those irreplaceable 3x5 cards that support us like a best friend. Although they come in other sizes and designs for those who, like me, function best when faced with a large array of colors to choose from, the most popular format seems to be the trusty 3x5 crisp, white, classic, lined index card used by some not only to aid them in school or work but also in life for compulsive list-makers. It’s one of these obsessive list-makers we follow around for the duration of the inventive sleeper Chaos Theory from director Marcos Siega.
Working from a script penned by Breakin’ All the Rules writer/director Daniel Taplitz, Siega introduces us to Frank (Ryan Reynolds), an efficiency expert who lives by catchphrases such as “a specific list is a happy list,” who begins each day with a unique list jotted down on (you guessed it!) 3x5 index cards. After his loving and supportive yet justifiably exasperated wife Susan (Emily Mortimer) mistakenly changes a clock the wrong way in order to get her husband to slow down, Frank finds himself struggling to catch up for the rest of the day which begins with missing the ferry and arriving seventy-five minutes late for an important speaking engagement on the now ironic topic of efficiency and time. Crazily disorganized from the start, the day ends with a series of misunderstandings and chance-encounters that throw his life off-balance after he assists a pregnant woman only to be erroneously named the father and gets kicked out of his house by Susan the following morning. When another wrench is thrown in his path to get his marriage back on track with some startling news, Frank embraces the idea of chaos and tells his best friend Buddy (Stuart Townsend) that he’s “decided never to decide another thing again,” and to this end, he writes down everything he’d like to do on a series of cards, choosing one at random to guide his actions.
While this leads to some humorous results, the story according to Siega is essentially “about love and forgiveness” and as the Warner Brothers production notes revealed, writer Taplitz was inspired to craft the screenplay after he became diagnosed with cancer. In his words, Taplitz explains, that he “was interested in writing about what someone does when they’re metaphorically pushed off a cliff both physically and emotionally—how one piece of information can potentially change their life and how they might have to reconstruct that life.”
Although Frank does end up grappling with some hard truths about identity and there’s a dark comedic edge to the film that differentiates it from its Sliding Doors like beginnings, ultimately it’s Reynolds who sells the film and keeps us invested even when it becomes a bit harder to believe as the second half of the film is a bit weaker than the first. As Colin Boyd of The Big Picture wrote in his review, “in line with the desperation of the character, Reynolds portrays a combination of frustration, confusion and desperation immediately and convincingly.”
Initially released theatrically into just two test markets including one in California and one here in Arizona which makes the film’s expansion into other states uncertain, hopefully it will get a second chance to make a first impression through its DVD release.