Stone's Throw

'Glass House' is short of shattering.

Yawn. When film reviewers gather in the dank, nasty little bars where we drink our seven-layer pousse-cafés, flirt with the critic-groupies and smoke our illegally imported Cuban cigars, we often talk of what we call "the dreaded second third." That's the middle of the movie, where less competent directors stick all the information that explains what was happening in the first third and what will happen in the final third.

Of course, the best directors have no "second third" to their movies, as their plots unfold evenly from beginning to end without the need for a long, explanatory pauses. Hitchcock, of course, was the technical master of this, but many modern directors are nearly equally adept. Atom Egoyan, David Fincher and Hal Hartley, each in his own odd way, is a master of pacing. Sure, they make missteps, but one thing they never do is bald-faced explanation that takes up 40 minutes of film time.

The interesting thing about Glass House (and I use the word "interesting" in the loosest possible sense) is that it's all second third. Well, it's explanation, boring meaningless sequence, explanation, bit you saw coming down main street, more nothing, more explanation, more stuff you already knew was going to happen, etc. So I guess it's not all second third. Some of it is even worse.

The plot seems like a good idea: 16-year-old Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) is out partying (yes, "party" is now officially a verb) when she sees police cars around her home. Thinking her parents have called the cops on her, she comes in full of excuses, only to find that her parents are dead.

She and her 11-year-old brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan, who played an irascible scamp in Jurassic Park III: Dinosequel!), are taken in by her parents' friends Erin and Terry Glass, who, it turns out, are not what they seem. Well, actually, they're exactly what they seem, but they're supposed to seem like something other than dangerous criminals who are exploiting the children for their $4 million inheritance.

Sadly, while the part of the evil Glasses is pretty much two-dimensional schlock, the actors chosen to play those parts are among the best on the b-list. Stellan Skarsgaard plays Terry, the lecherous, unscrupulous owner of a car service who's deeply in debt to a couple of mob stereotypes. Diane Lane plays Erin, a doctor who's discovered that liquid Demerol and Ativan, when placed in a syringe and injected into a vein, provide a few moments respite from spouting the trite dialogue that screenwriter Wesley Strick has stuck in her mouth.

In other high-quality b-list casting, Bruce Dern plays the estate lawyer who may or may not be in cahoots with the Glasses, and Chris Noth plays Rhett and Ruby's uncle, who shows up early in the film and then vanishes. I wonder if he'll reappear in the end to save them from their horrible step-parents?

Director Daniel Sackham seems more interested in putting flattering lighting on Sobieski's flawless young skin than in putting any suspense in his film. He tries to substitute drugs, murder and nubile teens for pacing, plotting and purpose, but unfortunately falls short due to a dearth of drugs, murder and nubile teens. You'd think he could at least have thrown in enough excess to make the lack of anything else interesting, but he's so in love with the big glass house where the Glasses live (crazy, zany pun, that) that he just spends most of the movie shooting people through glass walls or glass doors or glass windows. Yes, the house even has glass windows.

Being in love with the camera to the detriment of plot is not always a bad thing; it worked for some of the French New Wave filmmakers. Unfortunately, either Sackham is too Hollywood to understand how to make a shot interesting, instead of just pretty, or his cinematographer, Alar Kivilo, spent so much time working on crappy TV movies that he never learned that you don't have to make everything shiny.

Sobieske doesn't help matters much. While she was entirely serviceable in her small part in Eyes Wide Shut, she doesn't yet have what it takes to lead a film. What it takes, sadly, is talent. Of course, most Hollywood casting directors define "what it takes" as C-cups, which Leelee does have, so I guess they figured she was qualified.

On the plus side, a number of viewers have reported finding The Glass House hilariously bad. I just found it boringly bad, but then it's not exactly been a funny week.

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