'One Hour Photo' isn't fully developed

"One Hour Photo" raises an interesting question: Whatever happened to Patch Adams, anyway?

It's not the real Patch Adams who's gone missing, but the Hollywood star who played him. Robin Williams became a feature-film icon because of that smash hit, and other touchy-feely fare like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Good Will Hunting."

Some of us were growing mighty tired of Williams's cute schtick, and apparently he was too. Never one to do things halfway, he went dark with a vengeance in "Death to Smoochy," as a has-been clown with a murderous streak, and in "Insomnia," as a serial killer.

He does it again in "One Hour Photo," though you wouldn't guess it by looking at him. He plays Sy Parrish, the seemingly bland proprietor of the picture-processing booth at a suburban store. Sy is a middle-aged geek, desperately lonely but so mentally and physically repressed that he can't connect with anyone.

Should he shape up and get a life?

Unfortunately, he has one – a morbid, hidden one. For years he's been processing snapshots for a local family, and he's become obsessed with them. His home is festooned with sunny pictures of their domesticity, and when Mom shows up at his counter he's a little too eager to serve her. He gets fired – nobody is sure what's going on, but discount stores can't be too patient with weirdos – and Sy moves toward a dangerous crisis.

Williams earned his fame as an entertainer with over-the-edge tendencies. In his gloom-tinged roles he again summons up a sense of barely controlled creepiness. His empathy for lost souls like Sy may strike more chords with his own sometimes troubled life than he found in romanticized characters.

What damps down the psychological power of "One Hour Photo" is director Mark Romanek's reluctance to let the film become as idiosyncratically unnerving as its main character. Everything looks glossy and two-dimensional, like the snapshots Sy processes. We see what he does and receive clues to his motives, but we don't get to experience the world through his grimly skewed sensibility.

I'm glad Williams is taking chances. I wish Romanek had shown an adventurous spirit to match.

• Rated R; contains sex, foul language.

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