At some point in the last decade, Nicolas Cage became one of those actors who’s had hundreds of his movies thrown at the wall in the hopes that one or two will stick—or at least not go straight to VOD. Sometimes there’s a hidden gem in there (like his recent bonkers 2018 Sundance flick Mandy), but more often than not these films end up being nothing more than direct-deposit paycheck roles that are likely of far more interest to his agent than his fans. Like Looking Glass.
Directed by Tim Hunter, who 30 years ago made the darkly nihilistic high school thriller River’s Edge before seguing into TV work, Looking Glass is the kind of movie that you might get sucked into while flicking through the channels half-awake in a hotel room. But as something you’d actively seek out and spend ten bucks on to see in the theater, it’s pretty much a bust. Like so many 21st century Cage movies, the only reason to check it out is to enjoy whatever small idiosyncratic flourishes the actor has decided to tack onto his character.
Cage — in a jet-black, hair-in-a-can goatee — stars as Ray, a haunted handyman who tries to resurrect his doomed marriage to Maggie (Robin Tunney) by buying a run-down, out-of-the-way motel in rural Arizona. The couple thinks that by getting a fresh start with a new business they can move past the tragic death of their daughter. But as soon as they arrive there, it’s clear that something’s a little…off. The former proprietor (Bill Bolender, who you may recall from his totally creepy turn as Elmo Blatch in The Shawshank Redemption) has vanished and apparently gone loco. The auto body shop across the street is staffed with maniacal yokels who only want to haze the newcomers, and the sheriff (Marc Blucas) toggles between being welcoming and downright menacing.
But that’s just the start. As Ray starts fixing up the motel, he discovers a crawlspace that the former owner used to peep on his clientele in their rooms. Ray seems disgusted at first, but soon he finds himself drawn to the kinky thrills of being a voyeur. It goes without saying that before too long he sees some depraved shenanigans in Room 10 that get him in trouble. If any this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve read — or at least heard about — Gay Talese’s controversial story about a real life case just like this one.
Looking Glass has a few lurid twists, but it’s never quite as pulpy or pervy as it seems to think it is. And somewhat surprisingly, Cage doesn’t go gonzo enough to make any of it more than mildly entertaining (although watching Cage dance is still one of cinema’s great pleasures). Yes, there is a twist at the end. Of course, there is. But the three or four I came up with in my own head as this movie dragged on ended up being far more interesting than the half-baked one the movie finally served up. C-