movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell


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The Glass House

When teenage girls misbehave, bad things happen. The makers of The Glass House, another predictable non-thriller, exploit this horror movie cliché with mediocre results. We first meet Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) and her gaggle of giggling teenage cohorts at the movies, cringing as a leather-faced villain wielding a machete staggers after a nubile young thing in a wispy prom dress. Ruby yawns while the other girls cower behind their jumbo boxes of popcorn. She doesn't realize the movie gods have a similar fate in store for her.

Ruby sneaks out of the house one night and her mom and dad die in a mysterious car crash. She should have known that one day her misdeeds (like cheating on English papers and going to raves) would boomerang as negative karma. Ruby didn’t witness the accident, but during tense moments, the film cuts into a subjective, first-person account of crushed metal and squealing tires to reinforce her burgeoning guilt. At times, director David Sackheim (who might be better off making movies-of-the-week for his usual medium—the small screen, where he has directed episodes of The X-Files, Law and Order, NYPD Blue, and several others) seems worried that the slowest members of the audience won’t grasp all the overblown hints, so he has his characters talk out loud to themselves, mumbling things such as "They called the cops!" Of course, if Ruby had paid more attention to Nightmare Prom, she would’ve known the grim-faced officers were about to deliver some nasty news.

Once again, the movie shifts to Ruby’s point-of-view, just in case we can’t figure out how the phrase "You might want to sit down" would sound to a confused sixteen-year-old on the verge of fainting. The camera careens as the police fade in and out of focus. The room quivers and tilts as their voices go dim. Now we’re at the funeral and her new guardians, the Glasses, Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) and Erin (Diane Lane), are making a tearful speech and looking suspicious. Ruby and her little brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan, playing a mere plot device) are orphaned but far from penniless. When they come of age, they have four million in investments to last the rest of their lives.

Although the kids have a perfectly nice Uncle Jack (Chris North), they’re shipped off to Malibu with the wealthy and seemingly perfect couple, the Glasses, who happen to live in an avant-garde hilltop glass mansion that might belong in the pages of Architectural Digest. It's a sleek, classy cube. The swimming pool’s reflections shimmer on the Eames-era décor and nobody turns on the lights. The walls resemble windows, which allows Ruby to spy on the bickering Glasses as they duke it out upstairs. Most often, Mr. Glass gawks at Ruby, who goes swimming at three in the morning and changes her clothes in the hall (apparently, the house has no bathrooms available). Ruby and her brother are too big to be sharing one tiny room together--another annoying detail that makes no sense. If the Glasses have oodles of space in their palatial abode, why stuff the kids in one room, particularly if their happiness is of utmost importance?

Things get stranger when Mr. Glass takes Ruby out to dinner and tries to grope her in the car. Unlike smart psychological thrillers that leave the viewers guessing who’s right and wrong and who’s just imagining things, The Glass House’s villain might as well be wearing a mustache. He could twiddle it while violins screech on the soundtrack. Ruby spies Mrs. Glass shooting up and looking "baked" and phones her family’s lawyer, dastardly Mr. Begleiter (creepy Bruce Dern) and begs him to help. Could he be in cahoots with the Glasses? Like all grown-ups in this film, he is not to be trusted.

Turns out, Mr. Glass owes money to mafia gangsters who show up at his fancy office and slam him against glass walls. What a coincidence that Ruby is snooping nearby at the time. In this film, the characters need to catch up with the audience, not the other way around. Shakespeare might call the latter "dramatic irony," but this isn’t one of his plays, although Ruby happens to be reading Hamlet for her high-school English class. She also happens to be taking driving lessons, which come in handy for several rain-drenched chase scenes before the film’s laughable conclusion. Why doesn’t Ruby just run away? Who is making strange phone calls to Mr. Glass in the middle of the night? Why is it raining so much in Malibu? A better question is why Ruby, our modern-day Nancy Drew, is the only sympathetic character in this dismal script. Leelee Sobieski, who comes across as one of the more level-headed young actresses, makes the best of her clunky dialogue, speaking in dulcet tones with a quiet intensity, refusing to launch into histrionics. The others fare worse, as if they were contestants in an overacting contest.

Sackheim in his feature film debut adds nothing new to this tired spin on Hansel and Gretel. Screenwriter Wesley Strick (1991's Cape Fear, 1992's Final Analysis) stacks implausible situations on top of one another with no logical answers. Their film tells kids that they have no protection from anyone in authority, especially those who’ve replaced their gingerbread cottage with glass.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]