Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Jerry Rapp
Producer: Braxton Pope, David Wulf
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Kassia Conway, Jacque Gray, Bill Bolender, Jason Wixom, Barry Minoff
New motel owners become embroiled in a murder mystery linked to a one-way mirror that allows voyeurs to spy on one of the rooms.
What’s the best way to repair a broken marriage after the tragic death of a six-year-old daughter? Allow your husband to blind buy a motel off of Craigslist apparently. Save your skeptical guffaws. Running a roadside inn on a whim doesn’t even make the top ten list of muddled motivations moving characters throughout “Looking Glass.”
Ray (Nicolas Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney) should have sensed something wasn’t on the up and up when previous proprietor Ben wasn’t there to welcome them. Concern should have rung a louder alarm when Ben subsequently cut short a phone call before disconnecting his number, leaving the couple with no way to contact him again.
Ray and Maggie don’t have time to worry about zoning inspections, deed transfers, or other legal requirements making this part of the premise implausible. Instead, the two inexperienced motel operators sally forth with their plan to learn the hospitality trade on the fly.
In the pump room basement, Ray discovers a concealed crawlspace leading to a one-way mirror that peeks into Room #10. My first instinct would be to say, “hey honey, you won’t believe what I just found.” Ray doesn’t tell his wife anything, preferring to keep that card in his back pocket in case it comes in handy down the road, which of course it does.
As already implied, these aren’t folks who make logical choices. When Ray and Maggie later find a gutted pig dumped in their pool by vandals, neither one of them thinks to call the police. I would have at least tossed the carcass in the convenient dumpster a few yards away. Ray drives several hours to burn it in a desert ditch for some head-scratching reason.
Ray ends up using the mirror to relieve sexual frustration by spying on a regular’s revolving door of prostitutes as well as a blonde dominatrix whose same sex kinks really catch Ray’s voyeuristic eye. After one of her bondage beauties ends up dead however, Ray goes from Peeping Tom to possible suspect in a murder mystery connected to the motel’s secret past.
People populate “Looking Glass.” Minor events take place. But well over half of the runtime hits the rearview before any sense of an actual story starts taking shape.
Cleaning lady Ava has a nonspeaking nephew. Truck driver Tommy beds a new woman whenever he stays in his usual room. The unnamed gas station owner across the street leads a cryptic crew of townies seemingly up to something suspicious.
I mention these men and women because although all of them feature in multiple minutes, exactly none of them feature in the film’s final plotline. Eight of the 15 characters identified by end credits are listed simply as ‘Gas Station Mechanic,’ ‘Bartender,’ ‘Crewcut,’ or else add a descriptor like ‘Becky the Bondage Novice’ to remind you who anyone even was. This sign burns brighter than the motel’s neon that the movie knows how negligibly unimportant the majority of its roles are.
Ray and Maggie have a next-to-nothing relationship whose background is built on just two scenes of frustrated fights. Maggie is less an active participant and more of a lump Ray has to notice once in a while before going about his business solo. Sidebars involving a garden snake in a bathtub, a casino dancing montage, and numerous coffee conversations with the local sheriff pile on more dead weight.
Some 70s-style title cards pique initial expectations that “Looking Glass” might fertilize its Hitchcockian seed with exploitation era inspiration. Alas, scripting settles for a less cinematic, more rote route. Of course the only cute moment between the couple comes from an impromptu pillow fight. And of course Maggie happens to be watching the news when a woman they know is reported dead. The film doesn’t even wait until opening credits conclude to introduce the Chekhov’s gun in Ray’s glove compartment. It isn’t just the disappointing destination that makes the mystery unrewarding. Every pointless stop along the way adds to unfulfilling fiction.
Even Nicolas Cage doesn’t deem the material worthwhile enough to try salvaging it with his campy B-movie theatrics. Muting himself with mumbles and limiting action to quizzical expressions while smoking cigarettes, Cage’s yawningly reserved performance contentedly lets the chips float flatly into their predictable places.
Supporting players Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, and Bill Bolender do more to shake up stagnant scenery with their kooky characterizations, though they don’t possess the collective power to reverse the film’s downward pull. Competent cinematography, standard direction, and believable set decoration complete the outward appearance of a professional production. But this is purely a filler film to make mortgage payments while everyone involved waits between better movies.
Review Score: 40