In promotion, The Night Listener is “an intense psychological drama.” In actuality, the above mentioned is “an intense psychological drama” — only of the lowest caliber. More than a Hitchcockian thriller, Listener mimics a low-grade Shyamalan charade. All the elements are present: an eerie undertone, a twist seemingly around every corner, and a lousy payoff.
Based on the best-selling novel by Armistead Maupin (and “inspired by true events”) and directed by Patrick Stettner, The Night Listener remains far more literary than cinematic. What may have looked good on paper sure didn’t translate to screen well. With a paper-thin plot, inconsistent editing, and far-fetched twists, The Night Listener is far from an interesting character study and close to being a borefest.
New York radio host Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams), attempts to reach his listeners through story and voice. One such listener, a 14-year-old author and AIDS patient named Pete Logand (Rory Culkin), looks to speak with Gabriel personally.
After a series of creepy phone calls, Gabriel becomes crazed over the possibility that Pete may not be a real person. Gabriel’s on-off male lover, Jess (Bobby Cannavale), is quick to point out that Pete and his adoptive mother Donna (Toni Collette) sound alike. This quandary develops into a mystery that Gabriel refuses to leave unsolved.
The film’s atmosphere drips of a gay soap opera as much as it does a thriller. Gabriel’s obsession with Pete’s identity is both pedophilic and homosexual. Beyond that, Williams’ maudlin role makes it difficult to relate to this fascination. When Noone skips town, travels cross-country, and breaks into a home and a hospital, it borders on insanity. The leap from piqued interest in a young boy to a fixated compulsion in his tangibility is bewildering and baseless.
While the plot does twist, it never crests with intensity. For a mystery, the feature runs low on tension and isn’t necessarily resolved after 81 minutes. For that reason, Listener is a waste of time. No satisfaction results and no memories remain. Therefore, by the end credits, you are ready to yawn versus conduct any other action.
Much like the kaleidoscope featured during the opening credits, The Night Listener constantly changes in quality before your eyes. Despite there being hints of a good story, the script stays cloudy. Confusion and indifference are sure to result.
Post-viewing, The Night Listener is forgettable and sleep-inducing. Similar to reading the text that the film stemmed from, after getting through a few minutes of plot, you’ll soon desire to hit the hay and close your eyes.