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2002, dir. Mark Romanek
96 min. Rated R.
Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole.

Review by Noel Wood

Okay, so ONE HOUR PHOTO is a disturbing film. I mean, you know this going in. So why, why, why did Mark Romanek have to show us a nice long shot of Mork from Ork taking a dump? I mean, there's a lot of whacked out shit in this movie, but that shot takes the cake. Nobody wants to see T.S. Garp pooping. Not even the sickest sort of bastard imaginable wants that vision in their head. Bleeding from his eyes? I can handle that. But why you gotta show him in the shitter?

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let's look at the year 2002: The year Adrian Cronauer went insane. In this year, Aladdin made his return to live acting after a pair of flops three years earlier (BICENTENNIAL MAN and JAKOB THE LIAR) left him for dead. Since then, Patch Adams was heard in A.I., but hadn't been seen except for when he made an ass out of himself at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. So in 2002, Peter Pan returns, in a triad of roles where he's showing off his cRaZy side: DEATH TO SMOOCHY, INSOMNIA, and the little movie I'm reviewing now. I guess John Keating got tired of being that fuzzy-hearted guy we'd all grown to know. I had seen the other two films last year, in the days when I was too lazy to review everything I saw, and since I didn't review them, I'll tell you that I thought INSOMNIA was pretty crappy and SMOOCHY was underrated.

In ONE HOUR PHOTO, he plays Sy "The Photo Guy" Parrish. He's got all the qualities you'd expect from a man secretly harboring psychotic tendencies. He's plain, has no friends, and takes way too much pride in his job. Oh, and his boss is played by Gary Cole. And his first name is Bill. And for a second there, I thought this was going to be a story about what happened to Bill Lumbergh after Milton burned Initech to the ground. But alas, it's really about how Sy latches on to this seemingly perfect family and keeps an extra set of prints for himself and puts them on the wall of his apartment like he's going for some supersized photomosaic. Then he finds out not all is copacetic in paradise and decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes all Travis Bickle on us and starts taking pictures of Lumbergh's kid and then gets even more creepy busting into a hotel room and becoming an amateur porn photographer.

Sy's played more like a sympathetic character for much of the film, which is kind of an interesting angle to go with, because for the majority of the film you really think he's a lot sicker than he really is. I mean, I knew going in to this film that Sy was going to be a nutjob, and the entire first half of the movie you're just waiting for the moment where he snaps. And then he does. And still, you probably won't get what you expect from his character. It's like, really, although he does the wrong things, he does them for what he believes are the right reasons. Or something like that. I could get into some big philosophical debate about all of this, but then I'd be more of a dork than I already am.

But in retrospect, maybe the reason that the character of Sy works so well can be credited exclusively to the actor playing him. Because, digging deep, there's not really a lot of ground being broken here. The script is weak, not in the sense that the dialogue makes you cringe or anything like that, but in the sense that too many holes are left open and too many hackneyed ideas are used to convey the bulk of the story. I'm left answering the questions about the little things: Why does Mrs. Yorkin know that she wanted 4x6 prints one week, and then not long afterward, is absolutely clueless as to what size prints she wants? Why the hell does Will galavant around town with his girlfriend, mugging for photos taken of them together, and how did he keep it all concealed that long? I mean, you can't cheat that poorly and not get caught. Oh, and why is it that they had to fall back on the "I was an abused child" angle to explain why Sy was nuts? I just shook my head when this was announced. It would also help to know why Sy picked the Yorkins as his family of choice. I mean, he works in the big super discount shop in the suburbs, and I'm sure there's hundreds of seemingly perfect families that have come through while he's working. Oh, and when is Eriq LaSalle going to reprise his role as the 'Soul Glo' guy from Coming to America?

Mark Romanek appears to have a reverse Kevin Smith thing going on: He's fine as a director, but could use some polishing in his writing. It's ironic that his directing is as good as it is, because he's one of the many music video directors who have decided to ply their craft in the feature film world. Sometimes, in a case like David Fincher, the transition is smooth, but too many of these directors never seem to learn the subtle differences between shooting a four-minute music video and a two-hour movie. Romanek makes the transition well, avoiding using too much cliched imagery and cuts so fast they'll give you a migraine.

But ONE HOUR PHOTO is definitely worth a look, if anything, just to see its star pull off a performance that redeems him from some of the gawdawful shite he's made us sit through in the last decade or so. This is probably his best performance since THE FISHER KING, it's just too bad it didn't wind up in a better movie.


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