Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
Starring: Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, Stellan Skarsgard, Bruce Dern, Kathy Baker
You know a movie's in trouble when the soundtrack is drowned out by the sound of theatre seats flipping up with the staccato rhythm of a burst of machine-gun fire before the final fade-out has faded to black. Any audience that hell-bent on getting out of the theatre -- especially with a film where all the credits except the main title are at the end -- has not been having the best of times. And except for the occasional unintentional laugh, there's not much in the way of good times to be had with the first feature film from TV director Daniel Sackheim, The Glass House. It's not entirely his fault -- unless it can proven that he had complete control over the script and the film's advertising campaign. The script by Wesley Strick, who has been known to be called in to doctor other people's scripts (Batman Returns), takes a perfectly workable premise -- a newly orphaned 16-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother who are preyed upon by their guardians -- and proceeds to botch it at every turn by piling one unbelievable coincidence on top of another. Our heroine, Ruby (Leelee Sobieski, Here on Earth), just happens to be in the right place at the right time to overhear every important aspect of the plot. Apparently, we're supposed to think she's incredibly resourceful, when, the way the script works, she's merely incredibly lucky. When things start going wrong for the film's bad guys, Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard, Dancer in the Dark; Diane Lane, The Perfect Storm), they really go wrong to the point of comic overload. Just when it seems that everything that could go wrong for the larcenous pair has, something else manages to crop up to bury them just a little deeper into the morass of a murderous defrauding scheme so convoluted that even the script never tries to sort it out. And none of this even touches on the convenient manner in which characters arrive on the scene just at the precise moment to propel the film to its predictable conclusion. Late in the film, when trust lawyer Alvin Begleiter (Bruce Dern, who seems rightly embarrassed by the whole thing) has a showdown with Terry at the exact point when Terry is about to do his most dastardly deed to date and Terry's loan shark adversaries arrive as if on cue, the set-up becomes absurdly funny. Some of this might have worked, except for the fact that the film's trailer so completely sets up the story that you spend nearly half the movie waiting for the cast to figure out what you came into the theatre already knowing. The sad thing is that the film is gorgeously made, beautifully designed and strikingly photographed. The performances are as good as can be expected, given the material. There are also individual sequences of some merit, but they never add up to much of anything. By the time the film gets to its incredibly protracted, gory and unbelievable climax (put it this way: Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction has nothing on Terry Glass in the invulnerability department), you can only think that The Glass House was created with the hotel-chain motto, "Sometimes the best surprise is no surprise," firmly in mind. The problem is that thrillers with no surprises are just not very thrilling.