Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Mawkish Williams fails to make the cut

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

When Robin Williams withholds emotion, he becomes a blank, buttoned-up automaton, the creepy antithesis of his repellent, bleeding-heart clown in a movie like Patch Adams. For most of The Final Cut, this star confronts the world wearing the same mask of sunken eyes and lipless mouth clenched in a straight line that he put on in One Hour Photo. Imagine Buster Keaton as the world's most constipated undertaker.

In this chilly sci-fi fantasy, Williams' character, Alan Hakman, is the go-to guy for people who demand the ultimate obituary. Alan works as a "cutter," anthologizing the greatest hits from people's memories into mini-movies that are marketed as Rememories. His digests of golden oldies splice together the happier, upbeat moments he selects from so-called ZonChips, nearly invisible devices implanted in people's brains at birth that record a lifetime's experiences.

Scrolling through strangers' lives on a playback machine with multiple screens, Alan has seen it all and then some. As you watch the reruns of their lives, viewed entirely through their eyes, you get a creepy understanding of Alan's godlike perspective.

He knows every lie, every sexual indiscretion, drunken moment and ethical breach firsthand, so to speak. But his posthumous retrospectives clean up the mess. They play like sanitized home movies edited into infomercials. In making them, Alan's most important functions are to press the delete button and to keep his mouth shut.

The metaphoric possibilities suggested by the ZonChip are endless. Most obviously, The Final Cut could be a critique of Hollywood or Washington and the way entertainment corporations and political candidates compete to present lies and subterfuge as reality. The more closely the film approaches the sinister ramifications of Rememories, the closer to the bull's-eye it hits.

Film Notes

Written and directed by: Omar Naim

Starring: Robin Williams (Alan Hakman), Mira Sorvino (Delila), Jim Caviezel (Fletcher), Mimi Kuzyk (Thelma) and Thom Bishops (Hasan)

Running time: 85 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

But The Final Cut is saddled with distractions and cheesy subplots, and unlike Alan's memorial Christmas cards, it is poorly edited. The most serious distraction is Alan's own mawkish psychodrama. As a little boy, he once coaxed another boy to walk across a thin, shaky plank. The other boy fell and landed unconscious. When Alan couldn't rouse him, he fled, harboring his guilty secret for decades. He has grown up convinced he is responsible for the boy's death. He sees his occupation as a quasi-religious way to expiate his sins. In "redeeming" sordid lives by editing them into saintly ones, he is doing good by making the world a happier place and saving his own soul as well.

In the movie's sentimental conceit, this Man Incapable of Feeling experiences a dramatic catharsis that recalls The Pawnbroker and countless other films that offer instant redemption, and it feels like just as manipulative a sop today as it did in the 1960s.

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