THE NIGHT CLERK – movie review

Saban Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Cristofer
Screenwriter: Michael Cristofer
Cast: Ana de Armas, Helen Hunt, Tye Sheridan, John Leguizamo, Johnathan Schaech, Jacque Gray
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/31/20
Opens: February 21, 2020

You might expect Michael Cristofer’s “The Night Clerk” to be in tune with his directing interests, given that his previous film, “Original Sin,” unravels a scheme by a woman and her lover wherein the woman is to marry a rich man and run off with his money. The plot fails when Angelina Jolie’s character, Julia Russell, falls in love with the guy she marries. (We won’t talk about the reviews.) This time Cristofer is at the helm of a crime story that focuses on Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan), a 23-year-old fellow with Asperger’s syndrome, who runs the night shift at a small hotel. Because of his impairment, he is unable to make eye contact with others, and speaks formally with too much detail, which is a symptom of high intelligence. Nor can he pick up on social cues.

Bart Bromely, the title character played by Tye Sheridan, is afflicted with this neurobiological condition. Nevertheless he has a job as a hotel night clerk because, the manager says, the company has a policy of hiring people with impairments. In order to learn how to speak informally, Bart, who is a wiz at camera technology, sets up hidden cameras in the rooms not because he is a perv voyeur but because he uses the guests to instruct him in how to speak. This provides some of the movie’s comedy, as when the beautiful Andrea (Ana de Armas) is checking in, getting an earful from robotic Bart on the amenities the hotel provides.

“The Night Clerk” moves into crime territory when Bart’s camera captures a struggle between a man, Nick (Johnathon Schaech) and a woman, Karen (Jacque Gray), an argument that results in the woman’s murder—all picked up by Bart. He interferes with the body, gets blood on himself, and is considered by police detective Johnny Espada (John Leguizamo) to be the prime suspect. At this point the movie breaks away from a crime genre to explore a relationship showing Andrea, a new guest who is charmed by Bart’s awkwardness, particularly when Bart discusses like a walking Wikipedia how love is an addiction, like cocaine, releasing a flood of endorphins, and how heartbreak occurs when the love (like cocaine) is withdrawn.

Helen Hunt appears from time to time as Ethan Bromley, Bart’s mother, who tries to defend her “fragile” boy from the detective’s interrogation. Here and there, Cristofer’s script establishes comic points, as when Bart, who like Jim Carrey’s Fletcher Reede in “Liar Liar,” not only cannot lie but insists on proactively telling people truths they don’t want to hear. A used car salesman (D.L. Walker), hears from Bart not only that the dealer is obese but that obesity can cause cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Nor is a clothing salesman (Walter Platz) off the hook, informed by Bart that he would never wear slacks recommended by the dealer because the dealer is “old.”

Activities surrounding the murder of a blond woman in a hotel room pop up now and then during Espada’s interrogation, but this is primarily a film about a tender but unconsummated affection between Andrea and Bart, though there is some reason to believe that Andrea is using the night clerk, setting him up along with her boyfriend Nick, to take the blame for the killing.

Tye Sheridan, whose performance might be compared to that of Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man” and Tom Hanks’ title performance in “Forrest Gump,” is solid and delivers visual understanding of a condition that affects one person in every five hundred. Sheridan is perhaps best known as Ellis in Jeff Nichols’’Mud,” about two boys who help a fugitive to avoid capture by vigilantes. His job this time is so good that you in your theater seat might feel like getting up, frustrated by the projection of his autism, to shout, “What’s the big deal? Just look him in the eye and stop talking!”

90 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

A BOY CALLED PO – movie review


    Freestyle Digital Media
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  John Asher
    Written by: Colin Goldman from his story
    Cast: Christopher Gorham, Julian Feder, Kaitlin Doubleday, Andrew Bowen, Sean Gunn, Caitlin Carmichael
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/17
    Opens: September 1, 2017

    John Asher is known for a wealth of TV appearances as an actor and has directed “Theo Von: No Offense” featuring Von in a comedy about singular events in his life such as his meeting with Brad Pitt.  When he was 21, Asher, whose father was the original director for “I Love Lucy,” directed “Kounterfeit,” about an ex-criminal drawn into the business of making money–literally.  This time, with “A Boy Called Po,” he focuses on a ten-year-old whose neurological condition is exacerbated by the death of his mother.  The title boy played by Julian Feder in a breakthrough performance frustrates his dad, David Wilson (Christopher Gorham), who has a difficult time keeping his job as an aeronautic engineer when he is regularly called at the office to take charge of his son for a myriad of incidents caused in part by the boy’s inability to communicate with his peers.

    Po reflects the condition of the one person in 68 throughout the United States who have been diagnosed with autism, a neurological blip in development that causes those suffering from the condition to be less able to connect with people, to communicate with them, to succeed in social situations.  The condition frustrates key people with whom he shares space, including the school principal and a group of kids who bully him and call him “freak.”

    Asher’s film, based on Colin Goldman’s story and screenplay, finds David as a single parent taking care of Po.  He loves Po and is frustrated by his inability to hug his son.  Po obviously loves his dad, but pushes him away whenever David tries to touch him.  Since autistic people are wont to display repetitive activities, Po regularly says “Don’t be afraid,” which mystifies David, though when the loose ends are tied by the conclusion, David realizes what he means.  As for Po’s regularly asking “Where’s Mommy,” David ultimately discovers that by telling his son the truth, he has opened the lad up for better communication.  Po occasionally goes to a happy hour by immersing himself in visions, such as his meeting with a pirate in a coastal area, the sort of thing that non-autistic people do only in their dreams.

    Director Asher follows Po and David through the mall, in the school, in a center for autistic youngsters, and also in private therapy lessons with Amy (Kailing Doubleday), who energetically plays with the boy especially on a swing, which for some reason is not simply fun but a way to work through the disability.  Like some autistic kids, Po is a savant in math, covering his bedroom chalkboard with such formulas as the binomial theorem.  He has been able to read since the age of three, currently most interested in the Wall Street Journal—a feature that will have dramatic payback in the conclusion.

    The chemistry between Po and David would be called excellent, but of course if that were true early on, there would be no movie.  How he develops a way to express his love for his dad is part of the film’s theme.  Julian Feder, whose personal publicist should get on the ball by releasing a Wikipedia article, or at least a biographical sketch on the Internet Movie Database ( that would at least cite his age.  It’s a splendid breakthrough for young Feder in a three-hanky movie that might be criticized by some journalists for being too sweet and sentimental, but Hallmark style movies work for me and probably will for you as well.

    The movie features original music by Burt Bacharach in addition to the composer’s best-known song arrangement, “Close to You,” which became a hit in 1970 when sung by the Carpenters.  Cinematographer Stephen Douglas Smith captures the beauty of Po’s visions.

    Rated PG.  95 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?