Robin Williams is to photo development clerks what Psycho's Anthony Perkins was to hotel deskmen. In this intensely creepy though superficial drama, a restrained Williams is eerily effective as Sy Parrish, a seemingly innocuous, middle-aged single guy who makes a meager living working at the photo drop-off counter at a SavMart. All day long Parrish gazes at strips of snapshots of other people smiling and having fun. As he wistfully observes, "Photos say I was young once, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me to take my picture."
In One Hour Photo Parrish is obsessed with the Yorkins, an attractive young family (Nielsen is the mom, Vartan the dad and Smith their 9-year-old son Jake) who regularly drop off rolls of film documenting their picnics, getaways and birthday parties. Parrish makes extra copies of their pictures to tack onto the walls of his lonely apartment. But what at first seems merely sad and pathetic soon turns scary and delusional as he begins inserting himself into the Yorkins' lives, showing up at Jake's soccer games and casing the family's house.
While Williams will give audiences goose bumps and Nielsen (Gladiator) and Vartan (TV's Alias) are fine in supporting roles, Photo in the end proves no more than a snapshot. Its characters lack depth, perspective and, dare one say, development, and the plot eventually curdles more than it thickens. But with his carefully composed shots adroitly serving as a frame for Parrish's increasingly disordered mind, there is no faulting the visual flair that writer-director Mark Romanek (whose résumé includes a 1985 film, Static, and music videos by R.E.M. and Madonna) brings to the movie. Minor quibble: One Hour Photo's final scene, which provides an explanation for Parrish's behavior, is hammer-to-the-forehead obvious and totally unnecessary. (R)
Bottom Line: An imperfect picture, but worth seeing