Robin Williams stars in the wannabe taut psychological thriller “The Night Listener,” adapted from a book by Armistead Maupin. The plot revolves around Gabriel Noone (Williams), a gay nighttime radio host who relays stories of his life ala Maupin in his “Tales of the City,” only done via radio. His show is hugely popular and he attracts one special listener in particular. A young boy named Pete (Culkin) who, after reportedly being sexually abused for years by his parents is finally rescued by social worker, Donna Logand (Collette). She adopts the boy but it’s discovered he has contracted AIDS and doesn’t have long to live. He reaches out to Noone and a friendship begins. Yet something is amiss.
Noone is breaking up with longtime boyfriend Jess (Cannavale) and is having a rough time of it. He needs friends. People who understand him. People who care. He finds this in Pete and Donna. One day they call while Jess is over for a visit and Jess notices a fairly clear commonality between Donna and Pete’s voices. Jess flat out says, “they’re the same voice.” Are they? Is Noone the victim of a cruel practical joke? He decides to find out and away we go on yet another mediocre thriller with several “unexpected twists.”
The book was apparently based on actual events that happened to Maupin so I held high hopes. I also found it interesting that someone like Maupin, who’s not know for suspense stories, managed to create one that sold quite a few copies. Yet as “The Night Listener” labored forth, I realized this was just another in a long line of “The Sixth Sense” copy-cats only this time featuring a lead character who is gay. A gay lead character may change the landscape of a film like this, but it doesn’t change the fact that the twists here are middle of the road contrivances at best. Been there, done that. Too many times.
There are story elements here that are very interesting. At risk of spoiling the plot, I won’t say what they are. I will say that they’re handled in a ham handed way that borders on the silly. Director Patrick Stettner follows up his impressive “The Business of Strangers” and shows he’s a master at setting a dreary mood. If only the smudgy, cold look of the film translated to the story. Instead one goofy plot twist after another impede Noone in his search for the truth. By the time the credits rolled I was bored rather than stunned by the revelations within the movie and I just want these type of reversal/twist movies to get better, or go away.