Friday, February 16, 2018

In Theaters/On VOD: LOOKING GLASS (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Directed by Tim Hunter. Written by Jerry Rapp. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Kassia Conway, Jacque Gray, Kimberly Hittleman, Bill Boldender, Barry Minoff, Jason Wixom, Atticus Worman-Pope. (R, 103 mins)

We're a little over halfway through February and LOOKING GLASS is already Nicolas Cage's second VOD release of the year. Unlike January's excellent MOM AND DAD, LOOKING GLASS is the kind of bland, forgettable, perfunctory clock-punch that typifies the bulk of Redbox-era Cage. It's hard telling what drew him to the project other than its setting might've stirred memories of his cult classic desert noir RED ROCK WEST, John Dahl's terrific 1993 thriller that ended up premiering on cable only to become a big word-of-mouth hit in video stores. It could be the involvement of screenwriter Matthew Wilder*, who wrote Paul Schrader's DOG EAT DOG, one of Cage's better recent films, though at some point between LOOKING GLASS' announcement in the trades and its release, Wilder's shared writing credit with Jerry Rapp (GUTSHOT STRAIGHT) vanished and now he's one of about 30 credited producers, with Rapp getting sole credit for the screenplay (though Wilder is still credited on IMDb). Ray (Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney) are a married couple still grieving the loss of their young daughter in a vague accident that may have involved a fall, Maggie's substance abuse, and Ray's infidelity. They look to heal in the dumbest way possible: by packing up and driving across the country to a small Arizona town where Ray bought a motel he found for sale on Craigslist. The locals are odd but welcoming, including gregarious trucker Tommy (Ernie Lively), who always has a different young girl in tow and always requests room 10. The previous owner, Ben (Bill Bollender) abruptly left town and Ray has no way to contact him. He's got some questions, especially once he discovers a secret crawlspace in the pool maintenance room that leads a two-way mirror that looks right into room 10, which seems to be the most requested room for another guest, mysterious prostitute and professional dominatrix Cassie (Kassia Conway), who states "10's a peach...I'll take 10."

Things slowly take a sinister turn with the arrival of Sheriff Howard (Marc Blucas), who keeps showing up for coffee and to pester Ray about Ben's whereabouts. Someone dumps a pig carcass into the motel's pool with a note reading "Crissey" attached to it. Crissey was also the name of a dead woman found floating in the pool a month or so earlier, a guest in room 10 right around the time Ray first drove to the motel solo to meet with Ben about buying it. Another guest (Jacque Gray) is found dead in the desert.  Howard's visits with Ray grow increasingly hostile and even some of the locals start to cast suspicious glances at him like he's Roman Polanski in THE TENANT. This also ratchets up the tension between Ray and Maggie as Ray discovers the voyeur within and can't stop peeping on the action in Room 10. The biggest problem with LOOKING GLASS is that its central mystery isn't very compelling and never really goes anywhere. There's only a few characters and anyone who's seen a movie before can figure out the guilty party just by process of elimination (plus a shot of the boots of a third person in the room watching during one of Cassie's S&M sessions makes it even easier). The big reveal is both predictable and a shrug, leaving numerous loose ends, unresolved story threads, and pointless red herrings.

LOOKING GLASS is the first feature in 13 years for director Tim Hunter, best known for 1987's unrelentingly grim RIVER'S EDGE. While his big-screen career didn't pan out, Hunter's spent most of the last 25 years as one of TV's busiest hired guns, directing episodes of shows like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, LAW & ORDER, CROSSING JORDAN, DEADWOOD, HOUSE, COLD CASE, CSI: NY, SONS OF ANARCHY, BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN, NIP/TUCK. GLEE, HANNIBAL, GOTHAM, THE BLACKLIST, and countless others. With more TV shows being produced than ever, the 70-year-old Hunter's never going to be unemployed unless he chooses to retire, but that same kind of journeyman, workmanlike "assignment" style he's obviously grown accustomed to doesn't do LOOKING GLASS any favors (Hunter took over either just before shooting began or very early in the production, following the departure of music video director Dori Oskowitz). The film plods along, never generating any momentum or suspense as it dawdles to nowhere, and it often resembling two things after starting with opening credits that rip off David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY: 1) a tame version of the kind of erotic thriller that would've starred Craig Sheffer, Gil Bellows, or David Duchovny as Ray, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, or Lara Flynn Boyle as Maggie, and J.T. Walsh, J.T. Walsh, or J.T. Walsh as Sheriff Howard, and been released on VHS by Prism Entertainment in 1994, or 2) a desert motel-set early '90s indie noir like the aforementioned RED ROCK WEST, or other VHS-era standards like EYE OF THE STORM, DESIRE AND HELL AT SUNSET MOTEL, and BLACK DAY BLUE NIGHT. Everything about LOOKING GLASS feels thoroughly ordinary and peculiarly dated, like a tribute to the one-copy "Hot Singles" section of the new release wall at Blockbuster Video. Cage has a couple of "Cage" moments ("DID I DO WHAT?") but he's mostly low-key to the point of catatonia, while Tunney is given little do other than wait to play a victim. Blucas has some fun as the sheriff and ends up being the film's most interesting character, and there's a noticeable spark of wired energy when he first appears around 40 minutes in, but by the end, even he's defeated by the crushing mediocrity of it all. And then there's the So What? reveal that you already figured out, and then it just ends. Sorta like this review.

*(note: in the interest of full disclosure, I was once Facebook friends with Matthew Wilder, but a 2012 disagreement over Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME resulted in him unfriending and blocking me, followed by his immediate creation of the hashtag #attackfilmsocialismeanddie. I have had no contact with him since)

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