Making the jump from music videos to feature film, Director Mark Romanek has created something that starts out on the wrong foot, grows quite fascinating, maintains a dazzling visual style -- that's what directing short video pieces will do for you -- and kind of ends up on the other foot -- again, the wrong one. Still, there's no doubt that he's got a future in the business.
First, the plot: Robin Williams plays Sy, the lonely fellow who proudly calls himself the "photo tech" over in a corner of the huge SavMart store down at the mall. He's been there for 11 years, has become a workaholic in order to fend off the loneliness, is polite, friendly and as drab as his immaculate, colorless, antiseptic apartment. In order to get through life, Sy has kind of glommed onto the Yorkin family -- Mom (Connie Nielsen), Dad (Michael Vartan) and young Jake (Dylan Smith). Or rather, he's become attached to them through the photos he processes from the endless rolls of film Mom's been dropping off over the years. He desperately wants to be part of the happy family he sees in the pictures. He wants to be Uncle Sy.
Alas, he's only known to them as "Sy, the photo guy." They're not the happiest of families. Back home, Dad accuses Mom of spending money foolishly -- well, she is always at the mall --and Mom accuses Dad of emotional neglect, of always being away and not providing enough time for her or Jake. All the while, there's poor, lonely Sy chomping at the bit to be with them. Maybe he'd think differently if he only knew.
Second, the problems: The film depends too much on Williams doing voice-over narration. This is supposed to let us inside his mind, explain what he's going through and where his actions come from. But there's much more than enough of it.
Worse, Romanek has made a couple of false moves concerning the beginning and the end of the film. The opening scene shows Sy being photographed -- nice touch, considering what's to come -- but we shouldn't be told right at the outset who's on the other side of the camera. Romanek misses the chance for big shocks later in the film.
As far as the ending goes, after a great deal of tension has built up, the film sort of peters out, going to the credits with just enough puzzlement to leave a taste of dissatisfaction in the air.
Third, the highlights: Robin Williams has been making up for lost time in the past few years. A look at his resume shows that he's dabbled with serious and semi-serious roles before, and he's been quite good in just about all of them. But now he seems to be going for the really serious ones. Check out what he did recently with the too-small part in Insomnia.
Here's hoping that Williams keeps doing comedy, because no one else can touch what he's capable of there. But in One Hour Photo, well, he's just damn creepy. He goes through most of it with practically no expression on his face -- no smile, no frown, just his mouth sitting straight across his face. The voice-overs are wasted; you can see exactly what's going on inside Sy's twisted head without any help.