Film Review: Black Butterfly

A weak, uninspired thriller, offering a frustrating and implausible twist instead of anything in the way of tension.
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A mysterious stranger becomes a deadly AA sponsor... or at least that’s the thinly veiled ruse behind this twisty two-handed thriller that’s often so ridiculous any attempt to create tension instead delivers laughs.

As Black Butterfly opens, it’s mentioned a few times that some women have gone missing from the woodsy mountain region where writer Paul Lopez (Antonio Banderas) has holed himself up in a remote mountain cabin, trying to write his new novel. After an incident with a trucker, Paul picks up a drifter (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who came to his aid, offering him a bed for the night. Instead, this man named Jack lends his assistance to help Paul finish his novel, mainly by keeping him from the alcohol that’s hindered that process.

The only other main character of any significance is Laura, a realtor played by Piper Perabo, who Paul hopes will sell his house. After an early appearance, she meets Paul for a quick lunch date before he picks up Jack. Later, she shows up out of the blue at Paul’s cabin after he’s been missing for a few days, and she’s taken captive by Jack as well.

This is the second feature from director Brian Goodman, who impressed with his 2008 debut What Doesn’t Kill You, a crime thriller based on his own experiences. With Black Butterfly, he’s working from a screenplay plagued by so much bad writing and even bigger problems that he’s never able to do anything technically to avoid them.

One of those issues is that Rhys Meyers isn’t particularly intimidating or scary, so it’s hard to believe that Banderas’ character would put up with him for more than a few hours. At one point, Jack tries to pitch Paul on writing a book about picking up a stranger, but since we’re already watching that movie, it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be any more interesting as a book.

Other than that, we’re given very little reason why Paul—obviously a loner himself—would allow this complete stranger to stay at his cabin.  “Why I didn’t toss you out day one is baffling to me!” Paul yells at one point. Most of us have been wondering that exact same thing for the entire movie. It’s just one example of how the movie wants us to take it seriously—but it’s hard to do so with Banderas’ blustery scenery-chewing in his distinct accent.

Incidentally, the “black butterfly” of the title is a conspicuous tattoo on Jack’s back that seems to serve little purpose or have much impact after being mentioned. It’s just one of the many red herrings piled atop one another in trying to create a heightened sense of mystery.

It’s probably safe to assume Jack is responsible for the killings mentioned earlier, but you sometimes wonder whether the movie might go for something even more obvious. You may even think you’ve figured out the “big twist” before it’s revealed, because it’s hard to create new and original ideas when working in such a tired genre.

Instead, the rug is pulled from under you, as you’re led down an even more perplexing, confounding and thereby infuriating path that makes little sense in relation to what we’ve seen up until that point. Part of you might think you’re simply watching one of Paul’s stories unfold; the other part just doesn’t care.

Frankly, Stephen King generally does significantly better with this type of material without trying nearly as hard. Compared to other thrillers, Black Butterfly just seems lazy and uninspired, a throwback to ’90s suspense movies that were based on a simple throwaway idea and never fleshed out.

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