Bart Bromley sits as his hotel desk and absorbs the video footage that he gathered through secret cameras he installed in the hotel rooms.
Bart pauses frequently when he hears a phrase he likes and takes time to repeat it to himself.
“I will be right there,” he says. “I will be right there.”
But it’s still not quite right – the words are perfect, but the humanity is missing.
Young Mr. Bromley, played by Tye Sheridan in Michael Cristofer’s “The Night Clerk,” proves to be a pretty good allegory for the film itself, I think. Cristofer and company go through all the motions of a twisty crime potboiler, but there’s little of the humanity and none of the characters, performances or stylistic flash that could really make it sing.
“The Night Clerk” is the film equivalent of the trashy crime novels you’ll find at an airport book store. It may help you pass the time for a few hours, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of value beyond that.
What’s a shame is that the potential is there. Cristofer is a Pulitzer Prize winner for god’s sake, and rising stars Sheridan and Ana De Armas are charming and charismatic in the right material. The supporting cast includes ace supporting players like Helen Hunt and John Leguizamo. But everybody involved seems to be phoning it in.
Perhaps the first problem with “The Night Clerk” is Cristofer’s script, which plays like a low-rent, high-tech variation on “Rear Window” but with little of that classic’s visual imagination.
The quick and dirty synopsis: Mr. Bromley witnesses a murder on his secret spy cams while working at the hotel. His knowledge of the crime makes him a valuable informant, and later a prime suspect, for Detective Espada (Leguizamo).
And why does Bromley watch his secret spy cams? Well, that’s narrative problem number two: He has Asperger’s. On paper, this is a nice wrinkle to a familiar format, but Cristofer doesn’t invest enough in it to pull it off- he literally quotes from the Wikipedia entry for the developmental disorder on multiple occasions, which makes me think he’s never actually encountered the syndrome until now.
Cristofer also uses the disorder to excuse Bromley’s very unethical behavior, which is a no-no. It’s the ugliest and most ham-fisted portrayal of a disabled protagonist that I’ve seen in years.
“The Night Clerk” is offensive enough that it really makes you appreciate a film like Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” which provided so much more nuance and grace to its portrayal of a hero with a brain disorder.
Sheridan is a talented young actor, but there’s only so much to do when you aren’t given any material to work with. He seems to alternate between bored and emotionally constipated- neither of which are his best mode.
Similarly, de Armas, playing a hooker with ties to the murder, is much too good for this nonsense. In just a matter of months, she has taken a sharp fall from the gutsy heroine of “Knives Out” to this one-dimensional character, who exists only to be rescued by her creepy stalker boyfriend Bart.
Hunt gives Bart’s mother a nice maternal fierceness, and Leguizamo does the best he can as the detective. But, again, there’s only so much they can do when there’s nothing on the page for them to work with.
The cinematography, score and editing are all as flat and dramatically inert as the story.
There are a few thrills here and there and a joke or two that lands but not nearly enough to justify a viewing.
You’d be advised to cancel your reservation with “The Night Clerk” (rated R for language, some sexual references, brief nudity and violent images) or at least check out early. God knows everybody involved did.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.