There's a germ of a good idea buried somewhere in The Final Cut, but it's trapped beneath a ponderous screenplay, somnambulant performances and sluggish direction. Set in the not-too-distant future, the film imagines a world where parents can purchase a microchip that is implanted in the brain of their unborn child. Called a Zoe Chip, this implant records everything the child experiences from the moment they're born until the day they die. After death, these recordings are given to a "cutter," who reviews the footage and splices together a film that is screened for family and friends at a special funeral service known as a re-memory.

Robin Williams plays Alan Hakman, one of the best cutters in the business. What sets Alan apart is his willingness to take the very worst people-including adulterers and child abusers-and transform them into saints for their re-memory film. Why does he subject himself to the dregs of humanity? Because he's still plagued by the death of a childhood friend, a death he may have been responsible for. Alan's own guilt makes it easy for him to cover up the sins of others, including those of his latest client, a recently deceased executive at Eye Tech, the company that invented the Zoe Chip. In reviewing the footage, it quickly becomes clear that this man has several skeletons in his closet, which, if they ever leaked out, could reflect very badly on the company. That's precisely the reason Alan's former colleague Fletcher (Jim Caviezel) is trying to get his hands on the chip; since leaving the cutting profession, Fletcher has become the leader of an anti-Zoe group that intends to use this damning footage to bring down Eye Tech once and for all. Against his will, Alan gets drawn into this conflict and, in the process, discovers a shocking secret about his own past.

In the hands of a skilled science-fiction writer like Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein, this premise could have yielded a terrific short story or novel. Unfortunately, first-time writer-director Omar Naim seems unsure how to exploit it. What starts as a potentially interesting character study about a man who makes his living watching other people's lives turns into a shaky thriller involving a big corporation and some shadowy rebels. The concept of the Zoe Chip raises a variety of fascinating questions that Naim never attempts to answer. Would a man who spends all of his time viewing other lives be able to retain any sense of his own personality? Since only the rich seem able to afford this technology, has it become a symbol of class warfare? And why is it called a Zoe Chip anyway? Frankly, these details are far more compelling than the mystery in Alan's past or Fletcher's crusade against Eye Tech.

Naim's direction is as pedestrian as his screenplay, and his inexperience at working with actors surfaces in the one-note performances. Williams is capable of doing good dramatic work (witness his walk on the dark side in 2002's Insomnia), but he seems adrift here, as do Caviezel and Mira Sorvino, who is stuck in a pointless role as Alan's sometime girlfriend. Ultimately, The Final Cut is a study in missed opportunities-a neat idea that never gets beyond the concept stage.

-Ethan Alter