- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

With "Cherish," writer-director Finn Taylor, a San Francisco-based independent, improves slightly over his debut feature, "Dream With the Fishes," released five years ago, but he shows he lacks the finesse needed to juggle elements of romantic farce and suspense melodrama.

The heroine, portrayed by Robin Tunney, is what was known in the

late 1960s as an archkook. She is named Zoe Adler and works as a computer animator at some agency where the owner, Brynn, lazily embodied by rock singer Liz Phair, shows her no respect.

Zoe usually has music playing in her ears all day long, but this foundation of love songs has not made it easier to acquire a boyfriend. In a conversation with a therapist (a one-scene role for Lindsay Crouse), Zoe wistfully accounts for her bad luck: "I don't think I'd go out with so many guys if any one would call me back." That is pretty much the high point of the entertainment.

After an office party, a sozzled Zoe rejects an offer by office dreamboat Andrew (Jason Priestley in a minor role, presumably as a favor to Mr. Taylor) and ends up in jeopardy from a stalker who implicates her in a fatal hit-and-run accident. Left at the scene of the crime, the bleary heroine is jailed and presumably molested by a pair of thuggish-looking female inmates seen approaching her in a cell when the scene fades.

This abuse seems to earn her a house-arrest reprieve while her case is coming to trial. She disposes of a stylish condo in order to finance a lawyer (Nora Dunn) and takes up residence in a dingy but spacious loft, eventually revealed to be in the Hunter's Point neighborhood, which Mr. Taylor associates at his leisure with colorful diversity.

A county deputy technician, Bill Daly (Tim Blake Nelson), outfits Zoe with an electronic ankle bracelet and describes its restraints. He also develops a crush on her.

While a certain fondness grows between Zoe and Bill, she begins to do some amateur sleuthing that eventually uncovers her abductor from the fateful night. Having smoked him out of hiding (there's a clever aspect to his identity that moviegoers may congratulate themselves for detecting before the denouement), Zoe is obliged to set some traps in the loft that will increase her chances of surviving a showdown.

The whimsical slackness of "Cherish" may have San Francisco Bay Area written all over it for people who have spent some time there. Mr. Taylor remains a fringe manipulator attracted to mainstream entertainment. He can't sustain the romantic-comedy aspects on one hand or the intimations of danger on the other. If anything, the most methodical thing about his technique is that it keeps unraveling. Nothing adds up while he struggles to contrast genres and episodes.

Zoe exists for the most part in a conceptual limbo that frustrates character development as surely as her confinement limits freedom of movement. Ultimately, Mr. Taylor is so slipshod as a matchmaker that he leaves his co-stars without adequate reason to be mistaken for an oddball romantic match.


*

TITLE: "Cherish"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Finn Taylor.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes


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