Robin Williams has been so very, very bad for so very, very long now that it's almost impossible to believe that he was ever anything but. The coke-rocking improv brilliance of his standup (captured definitively on the LP Reality, What a Concept) has long been why you forgave Williams for garbage like Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, and Flubber (oh, and Jumanji, and Jakob the Liar, and Father's Day, and Jack, and Toys, and Mrs. Doubtfire, and Bicentennial Man...). But however funny he was, he has become the most grating comic presence in the world of entertainment; inconveniently, he has also become the most cloying schmaltz merchant this side of Norman Rockwell. All that remains now is a contemptible shell, the worst kind of celebrity known to man: all persona, no person.

But Robin Williams is nothing if not shrewd. Throughout his career, the classically trained funnyman has played a host of dowdy, awkward social outcasts--from Garp to Good Will Hunting--to color his image with the patina of versatility. To his credit, Williams has fooled the public, and especially the Academy, with these performances, which are not so much bad as they are calculated; they're less about acting than about inverting his zany persona, growing a beard, staying seated while a good film unfolds around him. These sensitive, secretly brilliant miscreants represent the official other kind of Williams character, and he knows as well as we all do that it is just as annoying as the primary one.

But all along, there has been a kinky third panel of his theatrical triptych: tiny, creepy, often uncredited cameos (as in Dead Again). This other other Williams--the creep--is the one he is currently milking like a Guernsey cow in the hopes of restoring the myth of his genius. The latest experiment--following the unwatchable Death to Smoochy, and the excellent-despite-Williams Insomnia--is One Hour Photo, reportedly the nastiest facet of his new persona: a stalker who terrorizes a family. By all appearances, this part synthesizes the three Williamses: He's "crazy," he's socially retarded, and he's evil. But he's also obvious--as obvious as the hair bleach and cheap eyeglasses the actor employs to affect his "transformation." He's obvious enough that I don't believe for a second that seeing the film will tell me anything more about him than the trailer already has; obvious enough that I refuse to bother.

I only mention all this because I used to worship Williams, memorize his records, go to his concerts, study his films. Now he represents everything I despise about Hollywood, and I think it makes me a little sad. But just a little. People keep telling me his new HBO special is "actually funny." I'll believe that when I see it... which is never.

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