Mild by recent Nicolas Cage standards.
Another day, another Nicolas Cage movie.
At least that’s how it seems in this stage of the actor’s career. “Prolific” doesn’t quite cut it as a description of Cage’s seemingly endless string of films, most of them B-movies. His cinematic output seems well deserving of study, although a single-semester university course would hardly encompass it.
At this point, Cage is making two kinds of movies: ones where he’s gonzo from the beginning, which is the far more common variety, and others where he’s relatively restrained, although almost always with at least one gonzo moment along the way. His latest — and I use the term speculatively, since by the time you read this review, another one may have already opened — is Looking Glass, a thriller directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge), whose career, like his lead actor’s, has seen better days.
Similar in certain respects to Gay Talese’s controversial non-fiction book The Voyeur’s Motel, the story concerns married couple Ray (Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney) picking up the pieces of their shattered lives after the accidental death of their young daughter. In an ill-advised attempt at starting over, they purchase the Motor Way Motel, a rundown establishment located in the American Southwest and whose outdoor sign reads “Night Owls Sleep Here.” The previous owner has hurriedly departed before the couple arrives, leaving Ray with a lot of unanswered questions. Why, for example, does a regular customer, a big-rig trucker (Ernie Lively), insist on only staying in Room No. 10?
Ray soon discovers the motel’s distinguishing characteristic, a secret passageway that allows him to peer into one of the rooms via a two-way mirror. He channels his inner voyeur, becoming turned on as he watches a dominatrix ply her trade with a sexy female client. So turned on, in fact, that he makes passionate love to his wife, clearly for the first time in a while. As they experience ecstasy, a woman is being murdered in one of the rooms, and the film cuts back and forth between the two events as though to remind us there’s a fine line between sex and violence.
More strange things begin happening, including Ray finding a dead pig in the pool, which he inexplicably decides to get rid of by setting fire to the carcass in the desert. This naturally attracts the attention of the local sheriff (Marc Blucas), whose initial friendliness quickly gives way to increasingly tense encounters. After informing Ray that a murdered woman’s body had been found in the same pool months earlier, he suddenly asks, “Did you do it?” As the flustered Ray struggles to respond, the sheriff repeats the question over and over, his tone each time more menacing.
The plotline diverges into too many confusing tangents for this thriller, scripted by Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder, to ever come into focus. Considering its lurid story arc and troubled characters, the film almost feels tamped down as Hunter strives to create an atmosphere of mystery and slow-burning tension. What he delivers instead is tedium, where even the climactic reveal proves both underwhelming and predictable.
Cage is admirably restrained throughout (and, to his credit, none the less compelling for it), with the exception of one scene, involving a violent barroom encounter between Ray and a burly bouncer, in which he finally gets to cut loose in a welcome, typically gonzo moment. Tunney shines in her underwritten role, and Blucas entertainingly keeps us guessing about the sheriff’s true intentions. But even the actors’ fine efforts cannot rescue Looking Glass from terminal murkiness.
Production companies: Kirk Shaw Productions, Prettybird, Silver State Production Services
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Jacque Gray, Kassia Conway, Bill Bollender
Director: Tim Hunter
Screenwriters: Jerry Rapp, Matthew Wilder
Producers: Braxton Pope, David M. Wulf
Executive producers: Arianne Fraser, Cameron Jones, Kurt Kittleson, Tank Menzies, Jason Miller, Barry Jay Minoff, Ross Otterman, Delphine Perrier
Director of photography: Patrick Cady
Production designer: Christopher R. DeMuri
Editor: Kristi Shimek
Composers: Mark Adler, Kristin Gundred
Costume designer: Heather Gaither
Rated R, 103 minutes