It's easy to love Robin Tunney--she's pretty, and she can act--but it gets harder and harder to understand her choices. The Craft was a good call, and undoubtedly furthered her options, as it did for co-stars Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk. But many of her parts since that 1996 film smack of calculation rather than script-reading: the obligatory showy handicapped role (Niagara, Niagara); the Schwarzenegger movie (End of Days); the big action movie by Martin Campbell, a.k.a. that Zorro director (Vertical Limit); the Walter Hill sci-fi movie (Supernova). All sound choices on paper from a career-furthering perspective, provided one doesn't look at the screenplays--Supernova was so bad that Walter Hill had his name removed from the credits.
Every film Tunney does is supposed to be her real breakthrough, and maybe the poster for Cherish, with her suggestively licking a lollipop (strikingly similar to a current World Wrestling Entertainment bus-shelter poster advertising its name change from WWF), might lure enough people in to make it a hit. Once again, however, Tunney fans are going to be saying, "Well, she's good in it, but..."
Tunney plays Zoe Adler, a worker drone at a San Francisco computer-animation company with a thing for mediocre music, which she justifies early on in a conversation that sounds like writer-director Finn Taylor's personal mea culpa for not obtaining better music clearances (honestly, do we need to hear Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" on yet another soundtrack, when there are so many other good new wave bands that could use the money?). Frumped-down in true movie style--i.e., braces and bad hair--Zoe nonetheless gets plenty of first dates but never second ones. Her therapist suggests that she uses socializing simply as an excuse not to be alone with her thoughts, which means, of course, that the movie will soon contrive an opportunity for her to do just that.
After crashing an exclusive after-work party by reconstituting the invitation from the office shredder, Zoe tries desperately to seduce Jason Priestley but instead runs into her own personal stalker (Brad Hunt), who, for reasons unknown to us, forces her behind the wheel after she's gone a drink or four over the limit. He then makes her run over a street cop, before conveniently disappearing, leaving her to take the rap. Thus begins her alone time: When it becomes clear that Zoe is being abused by lesbians in jail, her Gloria Allred-like lawyer (Nora Dunn) manages to get her put into a house-arrest situation, wherein she'll be confined to a loft in the inner city by means of an ankle bracelet that will call the police if she goes beyond...her threshold? The top of the staircase? The exact boundary seems to vary as the plot demands, but the point is she can't go outside or downstairs.
It's a tedious and over-convoluted setup, laden with silly "fantasy" sequences that are the hallmark of a first-time director. (Finn Taylor is actually a second-time director after Dream With the Fishes, so no such excuse here.) The film becomes even more of a groaner when it turns out that Zoe's neighbor in the building is a gay Jewish dwarf in a wheelchair (Ricardo Gil). One suspects that this character may have been a canny bit of contrivance designed to allow Cherish to be submitted to every possible demographic-themed film festival. Once all this ponderous backstory is revealed, we get Zoe alone in her apartment, and it is at this point that Taylor finally takes a breather and lets his actors do the work. Paired with a stuffy parole officer played by Tim Blake Nelson, a better actor (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) than director (O), Tunney breathes life into her caricature, while Nelson shows signs of possibly becoming the next Steve Buscemi, a "funny-lookin'" Coen alumnus with inexplicable sex appeal.
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Their interplay is what saves the movie, and possibly should have been expanded upon to the exclusion of the other plot points. For the climax, the movie takes an awkward turn into thriller territory, with reasonably satisfying results, but then adds on an ending that's unclear and ill-served. It seems at times as though Taylor's trying to draw parallels between the stalker and parole officer, or even imply that one is the other (clearly not--even though the stalker remains mostly in shadows, we can see enough to tell from the get-go that he's not Nelson). But Taylor's heart doesn't seem into that whole theme, so he kinda-sorta lets it drop to keep Nelson sympathetic. And although rocker Liz Phair makes a decent impression acting against type in a small role as an autocratic ice queen, Taylor ruins that, too, by showcasing a large Liz Phair poster in a record store. Wouldn't Phair's character ever notice the astonishing resemblance?