on June 07, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
   By turns a quirky romantic comedy, a slice-of-life portrait of a city block and an edge-of-your-seat thriller, Finn Taylor's "Cherish" stars Robin Tunney as Zoe Adler, a shy twentysomething animator with a passion for '70s and '80s pop music. Despite an inherent inferiority complex and a work environment in which she doesn't quite belong, Zoe is compulsively unable to spend time alone and so attends an office get-together uninvited. There she shares a few cocktails with a cute coworker (Jason Priestly, in a tongue-in-cheek play on his pretty-boy image). He offers to drive her home, and she, too drunk to drive, waits in her car while he hits the restroom.

   Outside, a carjacker forces her into the driver's seat. In the struggle, the vehicle accelerates, and she runs over a cop. Her assailant flees into the night, leaving her with manslaughter charges and little money to defend herself. While she awaits trial, she's enrolled in an electronic bracelet program, unable to leave her home.

   Unused to spending any time on her own, Zoe is tortured by the sentence and desperately clings to any form of human contact, coming on to her grocery delivery boy, making random phone calls and dragging out the visits from her bracelet officer Daly (Tim Blake Nelson). But eventually she gets to know her neighbors--the troublemaking kids in the street, the paralyzed gentleman downstairs, the amorous Russian couple in the apartment above--better than she ever would have had she been able to leave.

   As her trial approaches, Zoe becomes increasingly frustrated with her lawyer's inability to corroborate her story. With the help of Daly, who slides her into the work-release database, she has eight hours to locate her attacker. She does, but with barely enough time to get back inside her apartment, resulting in a heart-pounding footrace through the streets of San Francisco. Determined now to gain her freedom on her own terms, Zoe eludes the police while leading them to clues that will put her attacker away, going to extraordinary lengths to escape her bracelet forever.

   Director/writer Taylor is the most creative when he's the most restrained. He uses time lapse to the days stretching into months stretching into years: Zoe's hair grows longer, curtains fly up on the windows, drawings paper the walls. And in his script Zoe's personality flourishes under her restricted conditions: She becomes an adventurer, climbing to the roof through her closet in search of a mythic garden, a string tying her foot to the monitor that lets the authorities know when she's ventured out of range.

   But while Zoe's development is as fun as it is compelling, and her peculiar relationship with Daly is charming and sweet, and her ultimate escape is clever and exciting, the package as a whole is uneven. By the time the audience settles in to watching a whimsical romance, the film shifts gears, morphing into a coming-of-age drama, then stepping up into a fast-paced thriller. A risky choice, this confusing blend of genres needed a more assured hand at the controls. Starring Robin Tunney, Tim Blake Nelson, Nora Dunn, Jason Priestley, Brad Hunt, Lindsay Crouse and Liz Phair. Directed and written by Finn Taylor. Produced by Johnny Wow and Mark Burton. A Fine Line release. Romantic comedy/thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 100 min

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