El Cortez

2006, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

EL CORTEZ
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A neo-noir thriller that pits a high-functioning autistic hotel clerk against a small army of colorful crooks, hustlers and opportunists. Manfred De Silva (Lou Diamond Phillips) is a man in search of a new beginning. Newly released from the mental institution to which he was committed after killing his girlfriend and her lover in a fit of jealous rage, he finds employment at the rundown El Cortez hotel in downtown Reno. The job suits him: He likes meeting people, he likes helping out, and he likes the predictable routine of answering phones, sweeping hallways and emptying ashtrays. He doesn't like surprises and he doesn't like scenes — they disrupt his equilibrium and make him nervous. So naturally, the surprises and scenes just keep coming. First it's Jack Clay (Glenn Plummer), a mouthy small-time drug dealer who checks in for a long-term stay with his flirtatious girlfriend, Theda (Tracy Middendorf). Jack is all bluster and bullying, constantly spoiling for a fight, and vampy Theda just can't help stirring things up — growing up on a mustang ranch doesn't teach a gal to keep a low profile. Then it's Popcorn (Bruce Weitz), a bluff and hearty older man in a wheelchair who claims he owns a lucrative gold mine; he needs Manny to tell a couple of little white lies to help separate slick would-be investor Carlo Russo (Peter Onorati) from a substantial chunk of cash. Manny doesn't like lying, but he wants to help Popcorn out, so he does. And then it's Arnie (James McDaniel), the detective who arrested Manny and never bought that "not guilty by reason of insanity" thing. He's not looking to mess up Manny's new gig, but he needs a little help keeping an eye on Jack and he's not asking — he's telling. They all figure Manny for a fool, taken in by his awkward mannerisms and quirky habits, but sooner or later each learns otherwise. Director Stephen Purvis and writer Chris Haddock never rise above the material's inherent pulpiness, but they keep the twists coming until the very end. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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