Producers: David.. Wulf, Arianne Fraser and Tye Sheridan Director: Michael Cristofer Screenplay: Michael Cristofer Cast: Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt, Ana de Armas, John Leguizamo, Johnathon Schaech, Jacque Gray, Austin Archer, D.L. Walker and Walter Platz Distributor: Saban Films
Tye Sheridan does a reasonably convincing job playing Bart Bromley, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, in Michael Cristofer’s thriller; it’s the sort of assignment that would tax any actor’s skill, and Sheridan proves up to the task, convincingly capturing the physical mannerisms his character might well exhibit. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do him any favors in terms of credibility.
Though he lives with his ever-protective mother Ethel (Helen Hunt), who accepts his need for separate living arrangements even at home, Bart is employed as the night receptionist in a motel. A tech wiz, he’s equipped rooms with cameras not because he’s a voyeur, but because he wants to watch, and listen to, people going about typical activities so he can mimic their behavior and learn how to socialize better.
One night a woman, Karen Parretti (Jacque Gray) registers and takes a room. Bart leaves when his replacement Jack (Austin Archer) shows up, but watches from a console of screens he’s set up at home when a man arrives and they get into a fight. Bart rushes back to find her dead, and Jack in turns discovers him with the body. Naturally the police are called in, and investigator Johnny Espada (John Leguizamo) suspects Bart as the perpetrator, not only because he acts strangely but his story doesn’t add up. Karen’s husband Nick (Johnathon Schaech) presses for answers.
That’s not a bad set-up, and it’s further complicated by the arrival of a pretty young woman named Andrea (Ana de Armas) at the smaller motel where his boss has kindly transferred Bart. She shows a considerable interest in him, and before long he finds himself falling for her. That leads to a few sequences—intended to be amusing, but at the same time a bit condescending—in which Bart tries to encourage the relationship by getting a haircut, buying a suit, purchasing a car and some perfume, but treating the salespeople with a degree of honesty that’s off-putting. The question is whether Andreas’s interest is genuine, or whether she has some other agenda. And whether Espada will ever be able to figure out the identity of the killer.
These are fairly interesting elements, but Cristofer, though a well-regarded playwright, doesn’t structure them to create much tension, and his direction is too lackadaisical to generate much suspense or excitement. The fault doesn’t lie with the cast—Sheridan and Hunt are especially fine, and de Armas good as well, though Leguizamo seems a bit lost—or the crew (cinematographer Noah Greenberg’s use of the Utah locations, Diane Millett’s production design, Kristi Shimek’s editing and Erik Hall’s score are all professional). But despite all their efforts, as a mystery “The Night Clerk” comes across as rather flaccid and unfocused.
But thanks to Sheridan, it can be appreciated as a character study.