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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 14, 2001

Movie Scene
At the Movies: 'The Glass House'

By Christy Lemire
AP Entertainment Writer

"The Glass House," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sinister thematic elements, violence, drug content and language. Running time: 100 minutes.
Why are movie characters who live in modern mansions filled with sleek furniture and minimalist art always evil? And other characters are so much more wholesome and trustworthy if they live in comfy suburban homes with cushy couches and warm kitchens?

Think about "Sleeping with the Enemy." The control freak villain leaves his spacious oceanfront home in order to track down Julia Roberts' character and try to kill her.

As an image consultant, Bruce Willis' character in "Disney's The Kid" dwells in a cavernous contemporary home in the Los Angeles hills that's cold and empty until a precocious version of himself as a child arrives to warm it up.

And in "Sweet November," we immediately know Keanu Reeves' ad exec is selfish and shallow because he lives in a hip, modern San Francisco loft with lots of stainless steel appliances and television sets.

"The Glass House" takes a page from the same architectural magazine. Before hearing a single sinister note of music or seeing a single sideways glance, it's obvious Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard and Diane Lane) must have some diabolical scheme, because they share a glass-and-steel Malibu hillside monstrosity with stunning ocean views.

They're named in a will as guardians for 16-year-old Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) and her 11-year-old brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan), and must take them in when the children's parents, old friends of Terry and Erin, die in a champagne-soaked car accident.

Everything's fine at first, if a bit cold and clinical, and the kids aren't exactly thrilled with Erin's culinary choices: calamari and risotto with portobello mushrooms, when they'd rather have pizza.

Then Ruby notices the tiny bottles of drugs in Erin's medicine cabinet, and sees Erin passed out after shooting up, and Terry's dependence on Ketel One during the slightest crisis. Oh, and he leers at her in her bikini and hits on her in his convertible Jaguar.

And when she stops by Terry's office one day to get a ride home, she sees a couple of thugs shove him face-first into a wall and demand the money he owes them, which he brushes off as "a business glitch."

They listen to her phone conversations, trash her mail and cancel her America Online account.

Or do they? Maybe she's just disturbed over her parents' deaths and is imagining things. Maybe she's a troubled teen-ager, and the fact that she's studying "Hamlet" in her English class has filled her head with notions of murder and revenge.

You'll bother trying to figure it all out only if you're in the mood for a mindless, guilty pleasure.

Much of "The Glass House" is ridiculous, but it looks great, a sleek and stylish Hitchcock rip-off. Director Daniel Sackheim, who won an Emmy in 1993 for an "NYPD Blue" episode and worked on "ER" and "The X-Files," lures you in and keeps the suspense moving.

It rains a lot, and not because it's the rainy season in Malibu. Rain looks good pelting the glass panes, and the reflection of lightning flashing against them is shocking, and the rumbling of window panes from the thunder is ominous.

It's almost enough to keep you from noticing glaring inconsistencies, such as: If Ruby and Rhett's parents knew the Glasses well enough to name them as guardians in their will, how did they not know that Erin's a junkie and Terry's an embezzling alcoholic?

And it would easier to get enthralled if we could connect with Sobieski. Far from showing true fear, her expression ranges from a perplexed scowl over a homework assignment to a slightly more perplexed scowl over how to steal the keys to the Jag and navigate the winding Malibu roads to freedom — in the pouring rain, of course.