Robin Williams gives another of the dour, drab performances he’s susceptible to when trying to underplay in Omar Naim’s “The Final Cut,” a chilly, silly bit of sci-fi nonsense played so turgidly that every one of its flaws is thrown into the sharpest sort of relief. About the only pleasure one can get from it is toying with the title in light of the star’s previous effort involving photography. If that was “One Stop Photo,” this is something like “Seventy Years’ Footage.”
The idea behind Naim’s script is that well-do-do couples can purchase for their unborn children a very special gift: a tiny chip implanted into a fetus’ ocular nerve that will record, from their perspective, every second of their lives from birth until death. When a recipient dies the footage will be edited by a professional “cutter” into a summary of his life, to be played at his funeral as the ultimate form of eulogy. The finest of the cutters is Alan Hakman (Williams, looking as though he were continually suffering from a severe case of constipation), a strange, introverted fellow with a special knack for boiling down years and years of images into a short piece that captures the essence of the one who’d experienced them and presents the dubject in the best possible light. The obligatory crisis arises when Alan accepts an assignment to cut the footage of Bannister, a recently-deceased executive of the Zoe Corporation, the seller of the memory chip, who turns out to have had not only a trophy wife but also a dark secret involving his young daughter. A menacing ex-cutter named Fletcher (Jim Caviezel, giving a performance nearly as deadening as Williams’)–a member of an activist group that hopes to outlaw the Zoe process as detrimental to the social order–wants to get his hands on the Bannister footage entrusted to Alan and use it to discredit the company and its process. And wouldn’t you know it, the larger ethical controversy is complemented by a more personal one: Alan is tortured by a memory from his youth–an incident in which he believes he was responsible for another boy’s death–but the Bannister footage suggests that the youngster might not actually have died. What’s more, it turns out that there’s something in Hakman’s past that even he doesn’t know about, something that ultimately makes him a target of the protestors as well. As if all this weren’t enough, Hakman is also involved in a halting romance with a bookstore clerk named Delilah (Mira Sorvino, looking bewildered throughout), whose dead boyfriend, as it happens, was a Zoe child.
All the tangles of the plot cannot, however, hide the essential absurdity of the basic premise. The Zoe process, quite simply, is incredibly dumb. What parent in his right mind would want to inflict upon a child the burden of knowing that his every action is going to be recorded for posterity? Even if memories of wrongful deeds or embarrassing actions couldn’t be recovered while a person was still alive, why would he appreciate even the slightest chance that they’d be disclosed after his death? (Certainly not every cutter, whatever code they’re bound to follow, would see himself–as Hakman does–as a modern “sin eater,” taking his subjects’ failings upon himself to expiate his own guilt.) And how, even with the help of the most advanced computer technology, could a single cutter go through literally years and years of footage (even after the sleeping hours have been excised) fast enough to choose those telling moments that would adequately summarize a life? And how desirable would a final eulogy be that never shows the subject, unless he’s staring at himself in a mirror? (One of Hakman’s “cuts” shows a man doing precisely that, it appears–and nothing more!) The more one thinks about the whole idea, the nuttier it seems, and it’s difficult to believe that any company would have decided to market such a crackpot service, let alone have achieved any popularity with it.
Of course, if Naim had made a better film–one that didn’t crawl along portentously, apparently benumbed by its own misplaced self-importance–you might overlook the underlying plot weaknesses, at least while you’re watching it. But “The Final Cut” is sluggish and inexpertly constructed–with the relationship between Alan and Delilah so poorly dramatized that it’s difficult to believe the pair would ever have talked to one another, let alone gotten involved–and the dramatic torpor invites immediate scrutiny, disastrously so. The fact that the picture is nicely appointed by production designer James Chinlund (Hakman’s editing console is a particularly impressive concoction) and shot in elegant widescreen format by Tak Fujimoto (at least until a final chase sequence in a cemetery, which is ineptly staged) offers some consolation, but not enough.
It doesn’t help “The Final Cut” that its creator obviously intends it to be taken as a sort of photographic counterpart to Francis Ford Coppola’s superb 1974 “The Conversation,” about a surveillance expert who’s thrown for a loop when a job makes him the focus of possible bugging himself. It can’t be coincidence that Williams’ character is named Hakman while the star of Coppola’s picture was Gene Hackman, or that the memory chip company is named Zoe while Coppola’s production firm was American Zoetrope. But all those little allusions do is to remind you of how much better the earlier film was. As far as “The Final Cut” is concerned, only one aphorism from Naim’s script really applies: some things are best forgotten.