The playground "Looking Glass" operates in should be enough to make for a satisfyingly disreputable thriller: a skeevy motel, a strained marriage, voyeurism, leather-clad kink, an unsolved murder and Nicolas Cage. But hoping for a "Red Rock West" redux — the juicy small-town noir Cage starred in 25 years ago — doesn't equal results.
Cage and Robin Tunney play Ray and Maggie, a grieving husband and wife starting over after the tragic death of their child by taking over management of a sleepy desert motel. There, Sam discovers a crawl space leading to a two-way mirror with a view into Room 10, and his already fragile emotional state begins to crack, while the lives of a few guests — a beautiful blond, a bondage queen and a creepy trucker — suggest a hidden world of sex and criminality that may hold the answer to a young woman's death years ago.
That's all well and up-to-no-good, but the alchemic tang of peeled-back vice and possible insanity isn't there in Jerry Rapp's plodding screenplay and director Tim Hunter's tension-challenged execution.
And for some inexplicable reason, Cage keeps his more outré instincts in check to play a believably morose — but in no way fun-tingly — noir antihero. Much more enjoyable is Marc Blucas as a nosy, off-putting sheriff's deputy.
"Looking Glass" ultimately feels trapped between leaning toward Lynchian identity weirdness and suggesting a classically character-driven slice of indie exploitation, despite a suitably retro Tangerine Dream-like score that vibrates suspensefully when needed.
Rating: R for sexual content, violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Vintage Los Feliz 3