Nicolas Cage stumbles through “Looking Glass” wearing an awkward goatee and a dazed expression, so disinterested in this subpar, proto-Hitchcockian thriller he seems as though he might wander out of frame at any moment. This is the cross the actor has to bear in this rather peculiar stage of his career, when his currency as a VOD star mandates his output more than anything else. At times, a modern-day Cage vehicle can elevate campy material to transcendental silliness; here, he just sags into the whole mediocre package.
As “Looking Glass” hits a few theaters and digital markets in mid-February, it’s already the third Cage performance in circulation this year, which started out on a high note: In Sundance sensation “Mandy” (which has yet to land U.S. distribution), Cage delivers a terrifically unhinged performance as a furious logger seeking revenge for the murder of his wife in a mesmerizing, expressionistic fever dream; “Mom and Dad,” a VOD dump that deserved better, finds him playing a zombified suburban parent gripped by the desire to murder his kids. By comparison, “Looking Glass” is the tamest of the bunch, a flimsy noir exercise that would hardly deserve acknowledgement if it weren’t the most recent example of this actor’s bizarre descent to B-movie limbo.
Cage plays Ray, a somber man reeling from the death of his child who attempts to find solace by purchasing a motel in the middle of the desert. Accompanied by his grieving wife Maggie (Robin Tunney), Ray cruises into the sleepy town and finds unwelcoming eyes at every turn. A mysterious death precedes his arrival, and a local sheriff (Marc Blucas) instantly suspects Ray might have something to do with it. In the midst of dealing with all the stern looks and sweeping up the cobwebs around his new abode, Ray discovers a two-way mirror that allows him to peer into one of the motel rooms while unsuspecting guests go about their business. Cue the baffled Cage reaction shots, his inevitable arousal, and of course he also witnesses a crime.
The premise holds some potential, with the paranoia quotient high and the spirit of “Psycho” percolating beneath these early scenes, but “Looking Glass” is a pale imitation that suffocates the potential for genuine intrigue with its self-serious atmosphere, amateurish performances, and bland confrontations. It takes a lot of mediocrity for Cage to blurt out, “Stay the fuck away from my motel!” as evil locals swarm in and have the outcome feel utterly joyless. But director Tim Hunter (“River’s Edge”) follows the beats of Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder’s script with the same blank, ambivalent style affecting Cage’s performance.
At best, the movie drifts through obvious showdowns, and a scene that finds Ray tracking down a local prostitute (Jacque Gray) maintains a certain mystery to the nature of the power dynamic on display. Ray’s a flawed man fleeing from his troubles by attempting to solve someone else’s — but is he the only sane man in a crazy town or just as lost as the rest of them? Sadly, the movie never arrives at any tangible means of solving that question, and anyone bothering to watch this forgettable drama will figure out the true villain halfway through. Diehard fans of Crazy Cage performances won’t find much material to salvage here, save for an outlandish sequence in which the sheriff asks Ray “Did you do it?” so many times that his exasperation becomes a dreary punchline. But it’s a purposeless bit in a half-hearted excuse for a movie.
Somewhere in this material is the potential for tense exploration of private desires afflicting people enmeshed in extreme psychological disarray, but this sleepy drama never approaches the sophistication (or pulpy fun) that would allow it to succeed on that mission. The result is a hollow vehicle that Cage simply floats through on autopilot, and he peers through a mirror at a more exciting world beyond his grasp, it’s impossible not to relate.
“Looking Glass” in now playing in select theaters, VOD and digital HD.