[Screen It]

(2004) (Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino) (PG-13)

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Sci-fi: In a world where memory implants record everything a person sees and hears from birth to death, a post-mortem editor of such material tries to find the answer to a memory that's haunted him since childhood.
It's sometime in the future where every minute of certain people's lives is captured on Zo chips that are implanted into their heads in utero and serve as a permanent record of their memory once they pass on. In preparing for memorial services known as Rememories, "cutters" create brief audio-visual programs showcasing the best of the deceased's life, while jettisoning the mundane and unsavory memories.

The best in the business is Alan Hakman (ROBIN WILLIAMS), a cutter who works by himself and is known for making even the most sordid lives look bright in retrospect. When Zo Tech executive Charles Bannister (MICHAEL ST. JOHN SMITH) dies before his time, his wife, Jennifer (STEPHANIE ROMANOV) wants only the best for her late husband. Accordingly, cutters Thelma (MIMI KUZYK) and Hasan (THOM BISHOPS) pass on the job and give it directly to Alan.

He immediately gets to work on it, interviewing both Jennifer and her young daughter Isabel (GENEVIEVE BUECHNER) to see what Charles was like. While working on the Rememory, he sees a figure from decades ago in his past, a person who's haunted his memories over a childhood accident long ago. Seeking the help of girlfriend and bookstore owner Delila (MIRA SORVINO), Alan then sets out to find if this is indeed the grown-up version of the boy he briefly met and left for dead after a seemingly tragic incident.

Yet, he must also contend with tattooed protestors who are against the notion of such implants, as well as former cutter Fletcher (JIM CAVIEZEL) who abruptly left the business years ago, but now wants his hands on Bannister's memory implant so that he can use it to bring down the corporation. From that point on, Alan tries to track down the mystery man and deal with his painful memories all while unexpected revelations threaten to undermine his efforts.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While there are all sorts of theories about how they work and why we have them in the first place, there's no denying that memories can be just as intense -- and often more so -- than the actual event that created them. Whether used in school, the workplace or just everyday life, the good or at least productive ones help balance, guide, entertain or soothe us, while the bad ones prevent us from repeating mistakes although some serve simply to haunt certain people.

Either way, they're always there, rattling around inside one's brain. Beyond any negative repercussions they may have, however, the biggest problem is that they're simply not reliable. Like a cancerous cell, most anything can affect them -- including time, age and even one's constant replaying of the memory inside their head -- causing them to mutate into something different from the original reality.

Philosophers and fiction writers, especially those of the sci-fi variety (in the latter category), have toyed with the notion of memory since time immemorial. Who can forget "Total Recall" and its source material, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," where fabricated memories are inserted into one's noggin, or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" where they're selectively erased?

The latest film to tackle such matters is "The Final Cut." The plot takes a somewhat different (but not altogether original) approach by focusing on a select group of people known as "cutters" who create edited eulogy summaries of a person's life to comfort those left behind. You see, in the ultimate home movie approach, organic implants are placed into people's heads and thus record everything their mind sees or hears from the womb up until just before the tomb. In a sense, it becomes one's electronic memory, fallible only to technological glitches.

The twist -- actually, there are two -- is that a person can't access their own memory, it's really just a post-mortem device. The second is that people don't know they have one until they're old enough to fully grasp what's whirring away inside their brain. Such a premise -- however faulty it might be since it doesn't seem likely that parents would do this to their kids as only the future grandkids would benefit from it -- is obviously teeming with potential.

The thing could be used for all sorts of covert spying, whether premeditated for many, many years out or simply by sticking someone equipped with such a device (either with or without their knowledge) into a sensitive situation (political candidacies for one) where the hope is to record something sensitive to be used against someone else. The caveat, however, is that the person doing the covert spying has to be killed to get to that memory or risk having their brain fried to get it out while they're still alive.

Then there's the whole privacy issue, both for the people unknowingly being recorded into one's memory chip as well as those unaware that they're recording others, as well as themselves in their most private and personally intimate moments. And don't forget (pun intended) the idea of only remembering the good things about people by erasing the bad (something we do already, especially around the time of one's passing).

Unfortunately, first-time writer/director Omar Nam pretty much drops the ball in taking any of those issues and really running with them. His protagonist -- played by Robin Williams in his subdued if tense acting mode compared to his hyperactive comedic one -- is haunted by a childhood memory that's likely the cause of him being in the line of work where such bad memories are cut out of one's life highlight reel.

When he sees someone in another person's memory playback -- an individual who reminds him of the subject of his own problematic memory (never mind that the former kid would now be a nearly unrecognizable middle-aged man forty some years later) -- he sets out to find that person and potentially ease his own mental pain. The complication is that it's next to impossible to identify that stranger with the person who did the recording now being dead, while protestors are demonstrating about the overall process, and a former cutter wants the protagonist's latest work to bring down a corporation.

The problem is that beyond the basic premise, the execution of the rest of the plot is rather listless. Sure, there's a little action here and there as well as some probing, thematic elements, but little if any of it's particularly interesting or engaging. It doesn't help that much of the plot feels like we've seen all or bits and pieces of it elsewhere (particularly considering the likes of "Brainstorm" and other such films).

Without being fully engaged in the story and not really caring about the character and his goal, I had plenty of time to imagine the myriad of ways the story could have been so much better. There's no real need to go into my specific plot details (and yours will likely vary) other than to say that most every permutation I thought up seemed far more interesting and even plausible -- in the context of this specific storyline -- than what occurs on the screen.

Faced with the lackluster script, Williams ("One Hour Photo," "Insomnia") really can't do much with his quiet and reserved but then determined character. I believed he was who he played, but I just didn't care and that's not a fault a film like this should possess.

Mira Sorvino ("The Gray Zone," "Mighty Aphrodite") appears as what I'm assuming is his lover, but the character is so weakly written and the performance is so wooden that it doesn't really make any difference. Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ," "Frequency") shows up playing the renegade former cutter, but the same problems befall him as they do Sorvino. The rest of the performers inhabit characters simply designed as filler and/or space holders, with a bit featuring Genevieve Buechner ("Saint Monica") as a young and apparently abused daughter coming off as not developed enough.

Although I had somewhat raised hopes and expectations for the film based on its underlying premise, this turned out to be another disappointing sci-fi effort, much like "Code 46" from earlier this year, that sadly had too much unrealized potential. I don't know if a return trip to the editing booth could have fixed the film's problems, but in the end, this probably shouldn't have been "The Final Cut." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 8, 2004 / Posted October 15, 2004

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