[Screen It]

(2002) (Robin Tunney, Tim Blake Nelson) (R)

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Drama: While dealing with boredom and testing the boundaries of her confinement under house arrest, a socially inept and somewhat odd young woman falls for the deputy assigned to monitor her electronic tracking bracelet.
Zoe Adler (ROBIN TUNNEY) is socially awkward young woman who works in a San Francisco animation department. Prone to talking too fast when uncomfortable, Zoe has few friends and less success with men who never return for a second date. Even her co-worker, Brynn (LIZ PHAIR), wants nothing to do with her and makes sure she's not invited to an office party.

She decides to crash it anyway and meets up with the object of her latest crush, Andrew (JASON PRIESTLY). After a few drinks, she decides to let him drive her home, but upon retrieving her cell phone from her car, she's accosted by a stalker who ends up forcing her to drive into the path of a bicycle policeman. He ends up dead, the stalker flees, and Zoe is charged with alcohol-induced manslaughter.

Realizing Zoe would never survive in prison while awaiting her trial, her lawyer, Bell (NORA DUNN), arranges for the 29-year-old to be sentenced to house arrest in a large but rundown flat. Equipped with an irremovable electronic bracelet around her ankle that limits her to a radius of 75 feet from the tracking modem, Zoe realizes she's now trapped inside her own little prison with only occasional visits by deputy Bill Daly (TIM BLAKE NELSON) who checks the device.

Spending her time listening to period love songs on KXCH "Cherish" radio and trying to keep her sanity, Zoe realizes she can't prove her innocence while confined to her new home. Accordingly, she tries to remove the bracelet, an act that only prompts Daly to fit her with a new and improved one and orders random, check-in telephone calls that she must answer within five rings.

As times passes and Zoe makes friends with her downstairs neighbor, Max (RICARDO GIL), a gay little person whose wheelchair confinement prevents the two from actually meeting face to face, she tests and pushes the boundaries of her confinement, all while being unaware that her stalker (BRAD HUNT) is trying to find her.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
There are all sorts of prisons in life. While the literal ones are the facilities where convicted prisoners are held, there are also the mental and social confines that individuals purposefully or accidentally fashion for themselves, as well as the ones that others and/or society impose on them.

All come into play in Finn Taylor's "Cherish," a mishmash of genres and story elements that follows the story of a twenty-something woman who escapes one form of such a prison be being sentenced to a different kind. Although that may sound loaded with potential - be it in dramatic, comedic or character-study mode - the way in which Taylor has conceived and executed the tale leaves a lot to be desired as the effort ultimately proves to be unsatisfactory.

Part fantasy, part romantic comedy with moments of stalker elements thrown in for good (but actually bad) measure, the film is all over the board as it unfolds. Not surprisingly, it never jells or feels real and instead comes off as if it never got its cinematic feet on the ground before trying to move forward.

It's hard to tell what tone Taylor is going for. While no film has to stick strictly to the elements of any lone genre, this one's various elements are far too incongruous for them or the overall picture to work. All of which is too bad since parts of the story could have been interesting or engaging, particularly since lead actress Robin Tunney ("Vertical Limit," "End of Days") inhabits an intriguing if flawed character.

Slightly similar in theme to any "stranded on a desert isle" plot, the film poses the question of what a socially awkward and fantasy-prone woman would do if put under house arrest for several years. While Taylor has Zoe go through the expected and even some unexpected motions of dealing with isolation, boredom and an obvious feeling of going stir-crazy, we unfortunately don't find her predicament - despite her being innocent of the charges against her - as particularly engaging or her character as sympathetic.

Unlike Tom Hanks' character in "Cast Away" - where his isolation also changes him - we don't care what happens to Zoe, and her reactions and behavior unfortunately come off as far more irritating - when not boring - rather than interesting.

Even the fantasy elements - involving and stemming from the character's obsession with '80s pop culture - come off as rather lame and not particularly imaginative variations of what the now cancelled "Ally McBeal" TV show once did so much better.

Despite all of that, Tunney somehow manages to make her bizarre and occasionally bad girl character somewhat mesmerizing. Perhaps that's simply due to the actress' looks or the way she plays the quirkiness. Whatever the case, she's about the only redeeming quality the picture contains.

Actor (and film director) Tim Blake Nelson ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "The Thin Red Line") is okay as the deputy assigned to repeatedly check on her electronic bracelet, but he really can't do much with the character as it's written. Like much of the film, something about his performance simply falls flat when not also feeling bland.

Ricardo Gil (making his feature film debut) appears as the protagonist's downstairs neighbor and at least he has an interesting character to embody - especially since he's a gay and Jewish little person who's confined to a wheelchair (talk about loading up the character attributes). The likes of Jason Priestly ("Eye of the Beholder," "Love and Death on Long Island"), Liz Phair (making her debut), Nora Dunn ("Zoolander," "Heartbreakers") and Brad Hunt ("Blow," "Magnolia") appear in smaller roles, but aren't given the time or material with which to make much of a lasting impression.

Beyond Tunney's presence and the decent vintage soundtrack that plays in or over the various scenes, the film has little to offer that would be worth recommending. Featuring an incongruous, fractured and often unbelievable plotline and tone that are all over the place, the film alternates feeling rushed, amateurish and devoid of the proper filmmaking touch to pull off what's trying to be accomplished here. Accordingly, "Cherish" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed May 31, 2002 / Posted June 14, 2002

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