The Butterfly Effect as a viable franchise was pretty much dead even before the second film was made (due to the venomous lashing it would get whenever anyone brought it up), but apparently it was successful enough to merit another straight-to-DVD sequel. The film was produced by After Dark films, which marketed its releases with an annual After Dark Horrorfest, which showcased eight independent horror films. Most of them were pretty shlocky, but it seems they've built up enough capital to get some more high profile releases, including Wristcutters: A Love Story and Sylvester Stallone's Bullet to the Head.
The script was written by Holly Brix, who has written basically nothing... it would seem that this was her first screenwriting assignment to get greenlit. Seth Grossman was hired to direct, who similarly hadn't really done much. He had a couple documentary and short film credits to his name, but not much to go by to get him the gig as director of a dark time travel thriller... although at least The Elephant King was supposed to be pretty good. Anyway, the cast was once again filled with nobodies. The protagonist, Sam, is played by Chris Carmack, who is known less for his acting (which includes such greats as David R. Ellis' Shark Night 3D and Into the Blue 2) and more for his physique... a fact reinforced by his damn Wikipedia portrait. The only other character worth noting is Sam's sister, Jenna, played by Rachel Miner (who has some decent TV credits to her name but a lot of poor quality stuff as well).
While Hollie Brix is a neophyte scriptwriter, her take on the material is probably the most interesting aspect of the movie. Rather than rehashing the story of the first movie like The Butterfly Effect 2 did, Revelations follows a time traveler who uses his abilities to solve crimes, while sticking to a code to prevent himself from changing the past. He has determined that changing the past only results in tragedy, and so needs to restrain himself to prevent himself from inadvertently killing people. However, when the sister of his murdered ex-girlfriend asks for his help in solving the killing, the rules get thrown away as Sam can't help but try to save her. Unfortunately, in the process he accidentally unleashes a sadistic serial killer on the populace...
A mystery is a pretty cool angle to go with the time travel material, but unfortunately it doesn't manage to be engaging for a few reasons. First of all, the whole relationship between Sam and his dead girlfriend is basically jettisoned out the window as soon as Sam time travels, so we don't get any sort of emotional drive from that and when she shows up again at the end of the film it's very awkward. This largely stems from the fact that the acting and dialogue is mediocre at best and the two leads are bland (Rachel Miner is especially bad and sometimes Chris Carmack's facial expressions are unintentionally hilarious).
The script is also absolutely riddled with plot holes and fridge logic. Seriously, just writing this retrospective entry made the logical issues even more prevalent than when I was watching the film. For one thing, characters aren't consistent at all when time travelling. In the original timeline, a cop named Glenn is a good friend of Sam's. However, when he changes the past, Glenn begins pursuing him as a suspect of the murders. Despite that, when Sam gets arrested they talk like they're old pals, even though in this timeline they only know each other as hunter-hunted. The character Lonnie, who was cheating with Sam's girlfriend, is also a blatant red herring in retrospect, since the only reason he exists is for him to say to Sam "YOU KILLED HER!!!" to make it look like Sam's the murderer all along... except that when it turns out he isn't, mistaking somebody else for Sam makes absolutely no sense. Sam also makes a change that makes him have to rent out his couch to a dude named Paco, and then after another change suddenly Sam becomes Paco's couch mate... how does that work exactly? It's like a lot of the attempts at "butterfly effect" changes were made without really understanding the idea of the concept, because there's absolutely no logic to the decisions they make.
In a time travel movie, the "rules" should be well-defined, and Revelations seems to actually try this. Sam's friend, Goldburg, lays out the basics - only observe so you don't change the past, always "jump" with supervision and don't return to the same time twice or you'll fry your brain. Unfortunately, two of those rules are incredibly ill-defined and don't really make a lot of sense (not to mention that they're broken in the film itself without consequence). First off, if you're jumping to the past, why would you need supervision? It's not like they're going to notice if you do something... the only possible explanation I can think of is that if their observer is gone when they wake up, the time traveler knows they changed things. Still, some elaboration would have helped here, because otherwise it just sounds like Golburg and Jenna like to stare at Sam's naked body... Anyway, the "don't jump to the same time or your brain will fry" thing is clearly just a plot convenience. That way people can't say "well why not go back to your girlfriend's murder again and kill the killer this time?", because clearly that's what Sam should actually do. Luckily for the plot, Sam's an idiot (although at least he's a well-intentioned idiot) and messes up his chances to change things in the silliest of ways every time he jumps. Most hilariously is the time he hides in a victim's closet and watches her getting raped... until it turns out that it was just a roleplay between her and her boyfriend, who then finds Sam in the closet and punches him out. Oops.
Another notable element of the film is that its content is noticeably more explicit than the previous films in the franchise. By that I mean that the violence is extremely bloody and gory and that the movie features a borderline pornographic sex scene... and yet it still doesn't manage to be as dark as the original film was. I'm guessing that the more hardcore elements of the film in part stem from After Dark films pushing the horror angle and trying to get a wider viewership, but it makes the film feel more sleazy and cheap than either of the other films in the franchise. The violence is pretty over the top, with the first couple minutes featuring a brutal, detailed shot of a mother getting her skull caved in in front of her son. Then there's a few scenes of women getting chopped up with a buzz saw (complete with fingore), which of course results in fountains of blood. The violence is infrequent, but when it hits it's like an Evil Dead movie. As for the sex scene, it just comes out of absolutely nowhere. First we get the generic bartender woman flirting with Sam, pan down to her cleavage and then HOLY CRAP, UNNECESSARY, GRAPHIC SEX SCENE. Like, I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say borderline pornographic. It's only about 30 seconds long, but in that time they go through a half dozen ridiculous positions, the girl looks like a porn star and they even play a bloody porno soundtrack over it all. It's just a totally out of left field scene and was obviously only thrown in because someone decided that the movie needed boobs or it wasn't going to sell.
And then there's the ending... Sam finally unravels the location of the serial killer and discovers that the killer is... Jenna!? And she can time travel as well? Oh no! Turns out that Sam saved her from dying when they were kids and she's had a creepy, incestual obession with Sam ever since. Therefore, she has been killing off all of his potential girlfriends to force them to be together... she's like the time travelling version of the Overly Attached Girlfriend. It also turns out that her cover has been blown a bunch of times now and she just changes the past to keep Sam from knowing. As a result, Sam time travels to when he saves her and just lets her die instead, making everything alright. It's a rushed ending that isn't satisfying in the slightest. For one thing, having two people time travelling at the same time creatures enormous logical headaches - in order for the plot to work, Sam and Jenna must have been travelling to the same time periods simultaneously, which shouldn't work according to the film's logic. There's also the fact that Sam blatantly breaks the "don't travel to the same time twice" rule in order to kill Jenna, with no repercussions. Couldn't he have, I dunno, just prevented the fire instead of killing his sister (therefore keeping everyone alive and keeping Jenna from going gaga over him)? Again... Sam's an idiot. The ending is also kind of stupid because Sam's daughter, also called Jenna, seems to be a psycho as well - it's sort of implied that the other Jenna got reincarnated into her or possessed her or something, but it's just silly and unnecessary. Someone probably said "dammit, this ending where the sister gets burned alive is too happy, we need to make it dark, STAT!" Anyway, all of this resolution happens in about a 5 minute span, which is way too short for what the movie needed. Kind of like Die Hard With a Vengeance, the poor ending ruins the rest of the film.
The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations isn't as horrible as I make it sound. It certainly gets points for originality and actually manages to be somewhat engaging, but the glaring issues with the script, acting, overall cheapness and horrid ending dampen the enjoyment significantly. That said, I think there's a kernel of a great film hiding within the film, so if you're very forgiving you might want to check it out - however, it doesn't hold a candle to the first Butterfly Effect film.
So, The Butterfly Effect is dead and buried now, right? Well no, it's not, and that's another major reason why I chose to cover the film in a retrospective. Almost half a year ago it was announced that a remake of the original film is in production, with Eric Bress returning to write the script. People have reacted pretty derisively of the announcement, but there hasn't been any news on the film's status since, so for all we know it might have been cancelled. However, if it does get made, then it could be a blessing - The Butterfly Effect has a great premise, one which hasn't been properly explored yet. If the remake manages to fix the logical issues with the original, it could be the best entry in the series. Like they say in the link, The Butterfly Effect is the sort of movie that should be remade because it hasn't been done properly yet. Speculating even further, I think that a sequel should give Revelations' murder-mystery angle another shot, because it is a great central idea to go with. That said, if the remake never happens I'm sure I'll be satisfied with the uniqueness of the original film, but I'm moderately intrigued at present.
This is how I'd rank the series from best to worst:
1. The Butterfly Effect
2. The Butterfly Effect 2 (it's better made than Revelations, even if it's not as worthwhile)
3. The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations