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Ludicrous thriller

Review: 'Glass House' nothing to see


By Paul Tatara
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "The Glass House" is yet another example of the genre that refuses to die: the "from hell" movie.

In this case, we're dealing with foster parents from hell. But it really doesn't matter if it's a roommate, an adulterous lover, a baby-sitter, a mother-in-law, a cop, or a new tenant who carries the stench of Satan. The plot is exactly the same: A relatively likeable person gets mixed up with a manipulative, wholly unlikeable person, and things get nasty. In the third act, the tables are turned and the manipulator becomes the manipulated. Then somebody dies in a fittingly ludicrous manner.

This time around, Leelee Sobieski plays Ruby, a rebellious California teen whose loving parents (Michael O'Keefe and Rita Wilson) are killed in a mysterious car wreck. Ruby and her younger brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan), are informed by a family lawyer (Bruce Dern) that their parents were especially "thrifty" people, leaving the kids with an inheritance of several million dollars. (Boy, the money you can save when you remember to turn off the lights!) But the dough is apparently tucked away for later use.


In the meantime, Ruby and Rhett will be moving in with Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard and Diane Lane), a filthy-rich couple who are close friends of the family.

Surface things

One look at Terry and Erin's home, and you can sense director Daniel Sackheim gearing up for a tsunami of hogwash. This place isn't just fancy. It's a veritable glass fortress overlooking the beach in Malibu, with a deluxe interior that's bathed in cool blue light, and a swimming pool in the backyard that casts mysterious reflections on every available surface.

Terry also has a wide variety of uber-expensive sports cars at his disposal, and the homestead is overflowing with fancy push-button electronics. You'd think the kids were moving in with Buck Rogers.

It's not long, of course, before Ruby is uncovering clues that something isn't right, and it may have to do with all that money. Sobieski spends the vast majority of her screen time seeing things that she shouldn't see, overhearing conversations that she shouldn't hear, and suspecting that creepy ol' Terry wants to paw her alluring teen body. He even drools over her while she's swimming in that heroically reflective pool.

Rhett, for his part, doesn't suspect a thing. Ruby even accuses him of keeping silent because their new "parents" like to buy him Nintendo cartridges, a bit of 21st century bribery if ever there was one.


Screenwriter Wesley Strick (1991's "Cape Fear," 1992's "Final Analysis") has always been a hack, and he does nothing to sully his pristine credentials with this movie. From a distance, he seems to write psychological thrillers. But all he does is stack implausible situations on top of one another until the characters are left in shrieking hysterics.

He repeatedly mistakes plain old tawdriness for horror, and the level of in-your-face calculation leaves little room for surprise.

As always, it's painful to watch talented performers flail their way through high-tech foolishness. Sobieski has a warm screen presence, and she's good at conveying steely determination. The few scenes that score are almost all kept afloat by her quiet intensity.

Lane is good, even though she's saddled with a barely-there role, and Skarsgard is a consistently surprising actor who isn't afraid of difficult, off-kilter material (see "Insomnia," "Dancer in the Dark," and "Time Code" for prime examples). But he's usually in adventurous independent films, or far-reaching foreign exports. In "The Glass House," he's just another cog in Hollywood's machinery, and he pays the price. This is the first time he's ever looked ridiculous on screen, not that it's his fault.

"The Glass House" isn't especially intense, regardless of all the carrying on. There's the usual grab-bag of profanity, beatings, and high-speed pursuits. No word yet on whether Sobieski is actually Helen Hunt.

• 'The Glass House' official site

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