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One Hour Photo Underdeveloped

Robin Williams Extends Creep Streak to Two

By Jed Horne

Staff Writer

One Hour Photo

Written and Directed by Mark Romanek

Starring Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith, and Gary Cole

Rated R

95 minutes

Mark Romanek, in a bid to continue to the success of other music-video-to-screen converts like Spike Jonze, has created a well-paced and visceral thriller in One Hour Photo, with self-proclaimed debt to the loner-movie to end all loner-movies, Taxi Driver.

But where Jonze’s Being John Malkovich was content to play games with madcap but superficial characters, Romanek’s ambition seems to be his undoing. The identity crises in this film are strangely pedestrian, and his conflicts, unlike Martin Scorsese’s, are wishy-washy and wholesome. One Hour Photo, despite its promise, is ultimately about as fulfilling as a five-minute music video, tantalizing the audience with fabulous and piercing imagery but leaving important characters undeveloped and worthwhile questions unexplained.

Robin Williams plays Sy Parrish, an avuncular but slightly anti-social technician who works in the photo lab at a suburban drugstore. Apart from droll philosophizing and a few comic observations, Sy’s window into the personal lives of his customers spawns an unhealthy obsession with a prototypical yuppie couple -- Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), reminiscent of Being John Malkovich’s Catherine Keener without the edge, and her pretty but listless husband Will (Michael Vartan), who looks like Tom Cruise minus the chin. When Sy discovers that Will is screwing around, his otherwise pitiable mix of social neurosis and vaguely weird good heartedness takes a frightening turn.

Romanek takes an interesting premise and runs with it -- aided, of course, by the protean Robin Williams. Complete with a slight pudge, a tuft of dyed-blond hair, and piercing blue eyes, Williams showcases his considerable talent, finally establishing his humorless-psycho persona as more than just a whim after the sleeper hit Insomnia.

But the film does more than just showcase Williams. Like Jonze’s film, One Hour Photo has an eye for visual effect and, in particular, color. The film is awash in blues and whites, a somewhat clichÉed but nonetheless effective backdrop for a story of isolation and psychosis. Even the photographs that Sy processes are perfectly composed and developed -- a slightly unreal (and perhaps unintentional) effect. And as thrillers go, Romanek’s attention to pacing and sound effects keep this movie suspenseful and entertaining.

This makes the haphazard moralism and missed opportunities for real depth all the more irritating. Whatever worthwhile questions the film raises seem swept away by the muzak and endless white aisles at the Sav Mart, Sy’s workplace. Is Sy good? Is he crazy? Romanek and Williams can’t seem to make you care.

Like American Beauty, One Hour Photo is too forgiving of suburban alienation. The Yorkins slip through the film as underdeveloped side notes, and Nina’s good heartedness appears to be an unintended caricature. During an unintentionally revealing moment, Nina asks her son Jake to send good vibes to the poor Mr. Parrish. “Not everybody can be as lucky as we are,” she croons with a smugness that would have gone punished in a better-developed film but is simply ignored in this one. Nina’s character is undistinguishable from the rows of pink teddy bears at the Sav Mart, and her husband’s infidelity is, consequently, all the more forgivable.

So without a worthwhile moral dilemma -- as far as I’m concerned, the Yorkins deserved to be killed, not just stalked -- and despite William’s best efforts, Sy’s character leaves the audience more uncomfortable than provoked. As a result, the film’s ending, also reminiscent of American Beauty, doesn’t offer much more.

Don’t expect much more than you would get from perusing a photo album: glimpses of interesting characters, a few well-framed shots, and maybe a worthwhile story or two. Nevertheless, One Hour Photo is worth a look.