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No Roaming Charges: Robin Tunney plays a woman confined to her loft with a radio collar on her ankle in 'Cherish.'

Life With Zoe

'Cherish' sentences viewers to house arrest

By Richard von Busack

FEW MOVIES that can survive a stint under house arrest, and the feckless Cherish isn't one of them. Despite a finale that features a Run, Lola, Run-style footrace across San Francisco, this very slight romance takes place mostly in a big room. One drunken night, the very pretty but very naive Zoe Adler (Robin Tunney) was carjacked on her way home from a bar. Her assailant ordered her to drive through a cop who was blocking the car; after the fatal accident, he vanished like the One-Armed Man. Having a good lawyer (Nora Dunn, not much fun here), Zoe gets the trial postponed on the condition that she serve time under house arrest in a loft. Her ankle is shackled with a radio collar, so that she can never stray more than 50 feet from the phone. To add a little suspense, the carjacker knows Zoe's number and calls with threats to track her down. The police, of course, don't believe her.

It's uncertain whether the halfheartedness of the suspense story is supposed to be excused by the tentative romance--or whether it's the other way around. Fortunately, Tim Blake Nelson, formerly the gentle member of the Soggy Bottom Boys in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, adds some charm as Daly, the hollow-eyed, pocket-protector-wearing nerd who tends Zoe's radio collar. Details of his unusual occupation seem well researched, and the subject of house arrest does give Cherish something unique to work with.

Finn Taylor--who did Dream With the Fishes--filmed Cherish in one of the world's most photogenic cities. The locations go as far afield as Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and the Capitol Corridor train. It means something to see a San Francisco movie that doesn't have Telegraph Hill in it. Yet the lion's share of Cherish takes place indoors. The film would have enjoyed more cachet about two or three years ago, when a large number of San Franciscans toiled at web jobs that kept them from setting foot outdoors. There are a few unexpectedly tart touches--such as a group of neighborhood kids who seem nice but prove that they're as thuggish as they look--but the film stands on the lead performance. Unfortunately, Tunney isn't the kind of presence that can fill a room, and we're stuck with her quite a while as she watches television, straightens her hair and looks out the window. Despite her lucky resemblance to Reese Witherspoon, Tunney is a nonstar in an essentially one-person show, the kind of show that only a star can carry. The brief appearance of Liz Phair as an ornery receptionist and a soundtrack full of overexposed '80s hits ("Tainted Love") may move some to embrace this Hal Hartley-style comedy of urban neurosis. However, as seen in Dream With the Fishes, Taylor works wistfulness as hard as an elementary school kid selling chocolates.

Cherish (R; 99 min.), directed and written by Finn Taylor, photographed by Barry Stone and starring Robin Tunney and Tim Blake Nelson, opens Friday at the Camera One in San Jose and the CinéArts in Palo Alto.

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From the June 6-12, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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