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Throwing Stones 

You know how you sometimes fix something for supper that doesn't turn out to be all that good? You don't eat much of it, and then you feel guilty because you hate to be wasteful. So you store what's left in a plastic container with a snap-on lid, purchasing a modicum of solace at the price of one extra dirty dish. Gradually, the container migrates to the back of the refrigerator where it hides for a week until you finally take it to throw it away. And you know how it smells. It smells like Daniel Sackheim's The Glass House.

A kind of cinematic Frankenstein, The Glass House has been concocted by screenwriter Wesley Strick from a menagerie of movie cliches. The talented Leelee Sobieski stars in this rancid mess as Ruby Baker, a 16-year-old Valley Girl whose parents have the discourtesy to croak about 10 minutes after the opening credits.

Now don't get stumbly about the fact that Ruby is so exquisitely beautiful she could start a modeling career with a portfolio of snapshots from a disposable camera. And definitely don't twitch that Ruby's late parents left her $4 million. Because this child is in orphanville. Ruby and her stereoptypically bratty younger brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan), are stranded at the corner of Helpless and Destitute. Money can't buy you love or choice in your guardians, either. Or least that's what estate lawyer Alvin Beglieter (Bruce Dern) tells Ruby and Rhett, who are packed off to live with a couple of creeps named Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) Glass. The film congratulates itself for "artistic" sophistication because the home of Mr. and Mrs. Glass is made out of, ta-da!, glass. Is the human imagination a marvel, or what?

Now here comes the part that will really startle the moviegoer who measures his IQ with a ruler. Mr. and Mrs. Glass are up to no good. They want Ruby and Rhett for their money! They even have a motive: Terry is in hock to some loan sharks. Why he's in hock to some loan sharks the picture never bothers to explain. That would have required actual thinking about plot development. Instead, we have set-up, dreadful expectation and an hour and a half of lame stalling. Terry and Erin are bad. Ruby is vulnerable. Rhett is around for Ruby to have somebody to save. And now we wait for the inevitable showdown where plucky virginal purity wins out over murderous greed.

Some of the intervening details are actually illogical; most are merely irrelevant. As to the former, why at the outset does Ruby blow off her sensitive Uncle Jack (Chris Noth)? And why do the Glasses, who hope to raid their wards' trust fund, crowd the children into one cramped room? Wouldn't the villains be wiser to manipulate the kids with apparent kindness? Why, most annoying of all, would the Glasses leave indicting correspondence on the top of a trash bin where, of course, Ruby will find it and have her dawning suspicions confirmed?

Mostly, though, The Glass House is just an idiot's montage of details without genuine narrative connection. What does it matter that Ruby has to transfer schools where she is improbably ignored by her new classmates? And why do we have a scene with some of Ruby's old girlfriends who wonder why she hasn't called them? Why hasn't she called them? And why are the all the guys at the new school blind to the fact that Ruby is drop-dead gorgeous? What does it matter when the Glasses fire their Mexican housekeeper? We're told she's been nice to the kids, but since we haven't met her, we have absolutely nothing invested in the possibility of her assistance in the battle we're waiting on. In a multi-scene red herring, why does social worker Nancy Ryan (Kathy Baker) suddenly decide to investigate the Glasses? Who tips the Glasses off that Ryan is about to launch a surprise home visit? And why doesn't Ruby protest when the Glasses have abruptly provided the teen with a room of her own?

When the predictably drawn-out climax finally arrives, we get the limpest of same-old same-old. Ruby doesn't run away from school in the morning when she'd have hours before she'd be missed. Instead she tries to sneak out in the middle of the night, an escape that requires stealing car keys from the Glasses' bedroom. Inevitably, a first flight fails and requires a second. Automobile theatrics arrive like heat in a New Orleans summer. And, of course, Terry is that stubborn Hollywood monster who just can't be killed. In short, the plot here has all the originality of a 12th-generation Xerox, all the beauty of a squashed palmetto bug and all the surprise of a right-wing sentiment from Rush Limbaugh. The fact that this movie got made at all is testimony to the creative bankruptcy that reigns in contemporary Hollywood.

click to enlarge Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) suspects her new guardian Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) of relatively bad behavior in the suspense thriller The Glass House.
  • Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) suspects her new guardian Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) of relatively bad behavior in the suspense thriller The Glass House.


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