“I’ve gotta get back there. I’ve got to do my duty to my weiner.”
New Nicolas Cage movies continue to drop every few months, and while most go straight to DVD/VOD — his last lead role in a wide release was in 2014’s Left Behind, and he’s been in thirteen films since — there are some fun titles among them. The entertaining ones feature smart writing (The Trust) and/or a maniacal Cage performance (Mom and Dad), but most manage neither. His latest, unfortunately, is not among the entertaining ones.
Ray (Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney) are still grieving the loss of their young child when they decide a change in their lives is necessary. They buy a motel several states away, sight unseen, and after a long drive they start settling into their new existence. Customers, oddball regulars, and others move through their days, but Ray’s nights take a turn when he discovers a hidden part of the motel offering a secret window — via a two-way mirror — into one of the rooms. At first it’s just a trucker using the room to cheat on his wife, but Ray perks up when he spies an attractive blonde getting saucy with another woman, and it’s enough to jump start his own sex life with his wife.
Then the woman is murdered by a masked intruder. And a dead pig is found floating in the motel pool with a photograph stuffed into its carcass. And Ray discovers the young woman in the picture also died in the pool a few months prior.
Looking Glass drops Cage into the middle of a small desert town populated with weirdos, assholes, and one very suspicious police officer, but one brief moment of swagger aside it keeps him more calm than crazy. The film itself follows suit with scenes meant to be extreme instead feeling ridiculously tame — a pair of S&M segments feel almost PG-rated in their vanilla presentation. The thrills are absent, and the blame rests squarely at the feet of director Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) and a script that can’t decide what story it wants to tell.
The couple’s dead kid? Not important. The details that led to her death, from Maggie’s drug use to Ray’s possible infidelity? Not worth discussing apparently. The present is deemed no more relevant as the screenplay (by Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder) moves between plot turns and red herrings with abandon. Every side character is an oddity of some sort, and while the non-threatening ones may be harmless others — specifically the possibly inbred or doped up mechanics across the street — are surely up to know good. Or not.
The pervert’s motel angle feels familiar both as an urban legend in general and more specifically as inspired by the true story behind HBO’s Voyeur. That doc sees Gay Talese detailing one man’s life spent as a motel owner who watched his patrons from a secret attic above the rooms. That story involves a possible murder too, and Ray’s mild efforts here to find the man who sold him the motel suggest a similarly-minded subplot, but as with everything else all of the film’s various strands go nowhere as the film chooses instead to suddenly turn on a dime, resolve a single event with the blandest reveal possible, and then end.
Cage is mostly restrained throughout the film, and while that shouldn’t be a negative he’s shown in recent years that he’s really only an interesting performer these days when he cuts loose. One brief bar scene sees him tease such an outburst, but it never comes. Tunney meanwhile gives a good, heartfelt performance early on before apparently realizing that if no one else gives a damn on this production than she shouldn’t either.
Looking Glass sets itself up as a thriller, but the entirety fizzles as every thread amounts to very little. Cage completists will see it, but no one else should feel obligated.