Confirming, after "Paycheck" and "Cypher," that memory hocus-pocus is the new method of time travel, "The Final Cut" reps a stodgy contribution to the subgenre. Helmer Omar Naim displays a B-movie sensibility but little skill with thesps. Robin Williams underplays so much he makes his loner in "One Hour Photo" look like Mork. Striking visuals help, but pic won't make the cut with genre fans or the arthouse crowd.

Confirming, after “Paycheck” and “Cypher,” that memory hocus-pocus is the new method of sci-fi time travel, “The Final Cut” reps a stodgy contribution to the subgenre. Making his feature debut, helmer Omar Naim displays a pulpy B-movie sensibility but little skill with thesps. A shtick-free Robin Williams underplays so much he makes his morose loner in “One Hour Photo” look like Mork. Striking visuals help, but pic won’t make the final cut with either genre fans, who’ve seen it all and better before, or the arthouse crowd, who will sneer at pic’s cliches.

In an unspecified time in the future, a biological chip called a Zoe is implanted in an unborn fetus and records everything a person sees from birth until death, offering the ultimate, real-time home movie. Alan Hakman (Williams) is a “cutter,” an editor of Zoe footage who splices together mini-films from the chip’s footage for funerals.

The buttoned-down Hakman sees himself as a modern “sin eater,” absolving the dead by sifting through their entire lives to create “best of” reels that leave in only their happy moments and delete their crimes and secrets.

Considered the best in the business, but also disdained by other cutters for taking on shady clients (such as a secret wife batterer), Hakman has a secret of his own: As a 9-year-old (played by Casey Dubois), he encouraged a boy named Louis (Liam Ranger) to walk on a dangerous plank above a well and Louis fell to his death. Cutting is his expiation of a sin he can never forget.

However, this guilt plus his obsession with his job has poisoned his private life, particularly his last relationship, with antique-book dealer Delilah (Mira Sorvino). (It didn’t help that he has a fetish for watching himself in a mirror while having sex.)

Hakman is commissioned to cut the Zoe footage of a man named Bannister, who was a bio-chip company exec. While deep in the footage, Hakman spots a grown man who looks uncannily like Louis, the kid Hakman thought died years ago.

Hakman’s investigation of the man who looks like Louis, however, is complicated by Fletcher (Jim Caviezel), an ex-cutter and now an anti-Zoe activist, who wants Bannister’s footage to expose the chipmakers’ lack of ethics.

Helmer Naim seems out of his depth when it comes to handling such unpredictable talents as Williams and Sorvino. The two have no onscreen sexual chemistry and pitch their perfs in completely different keys. Playing his part completely straight, Williams offers a lot of grimacing to suggest repressed anxiety, with a bit of brow-furrowing to connote stress.

Sorvino has an even tougher time with an underwritten role that mostly requires her to be shrill. Badly inserted revelations about how Hakman met her suggest more nuanced perfs may have been lost on the cutting-room floor.

Meanwhile, the Zoe clips shown — shot on 24p digital format by second-unit director Rob Turner, according to press notes — sport especially wooden vocal delivery by the actors playing the people whose p.o.v. “records” the footage.

Packed with potentially good ideas that don’t quite pay off, the script never quite fuses separate narrative threads — love story, political intrigue or tale of redemption. Many of the best concepts have been seen before, from the voyeurism theme explored more pungently in Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” back in 1960, to the memory-recording gimmick that was first substantially explored in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days.”

As if worried the aud won’t get what’s going on, aural flashbacks reverberate on the soundtrack at key moments, intoning key plot points in shopworn style. The effect is unintentionally comic. Perhaps humor was the aim, given Naim playfully names one cutter Hakman (invoking Gene Hackman’s turn in “The Conversation”) and another cutter Thelma, clearly a tribute to Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s regular editor.

Tak Fujimoto’s widescreen camerawork is a two-edged sword, adding a pro polish but also calling to mind his work with M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”), of which “The Final Cut” also feels derivative.

Easily the most pleasing and original element of pic is its production design by James Chinlund, who crafts a nifty burnished wooden cutting console for Hakman that looks like a cross between a Steenbeck, a laptop and a Chippendale desk.

The Final Cut

Production

A Lions Gate Films release (in U.S.) of a Lions Gate Entertainment, Cinerenta presentation of an Industry Entertainment, Cinetheta production. (International sales: Lions Gate, Hollywood.) Produced by Nick Wechsler. Executive producers, Nancy Paloian-Breznikar, Marco Mehlitz, Michael Ohoven, Marc Butan, Michael Burns, Michael Paseornek, Guymon Casady. Co-producers, Eberhard Kayser, William Vince. Directed, written by Omar Naim.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen, DV-to-35mm), Tak Fujimoto; editors, Dede Allen, Robert Brakey; music, Brian Tyler; production designer, James Chinlund; costumes, Monique Prudhomme; sound (Dolby, DTS), Patrick Ramsay; special effects, Gary Paller; assistant director, Craig Matheson; second-unit director, Rob Turner; casting, Lynne Carrow, Susan Brouse, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 10, 2004. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Alan Hakman - Robin Williams Delila - Mira Sorvino Fletcher - Jim Caviezel Thelma - Mimi Kuzyk Hasan - Thom Bishops Michael - Brendan Fletcher Simon - Vincent Gale Alan, age 9 - Casey Dubois Louis, age 9 - Liam Ranger

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