Despite a terrific cast, the psycho-thriller "Glass House" soon shatters its own sense of belief. 

Throwing Stones

Is there anything more annoying than a badly made psychological thriller? Forget those telemarketers at dinnertime. Push aside memories of breaking a nail just before a big date. Jettison thoughts of friends who have cell phones but never turn them on. Those are just minor irritations when compared to buying a big tub of popcorn and a mondo soda, scrunching down in your favorite movie theater seat and waiting to be thrilled to death only to watch mediocrity — or worse — unreeling. As a good friend of mine is wont to say, the plot of "The Glass House" unravels like a 200-year-old rope.

Since there's no fault to be found with the cast, which includes such terrific actors as Stellan Skarsgard and Leelee Sobieski, one can only point the finger at director Daniel Sackheim and screenwriter Wesley Strick. While the latter's crimes against the thriller genre are numerous, ultimately it's Sackheim's constant telegraphing of any upcoming suspense that hamstrings "The Glass House." Long before this tricked-up retelling of "Hansel & Gretel" ends, it falls apart.

Set in present-day Los Angeles, the film features Ruby (Sobieski) and Rhett (Trevor Morgan) as your average, happy kids. Ruby splits her time between drawing and romping with her girlfriends, while Rhett's addicted to Nintendo. But their carefree life comes to a screeching halt when their loving parents (Michael O'Keefe and Rita Wilson) are killed in a car accident.

Enter Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry Glass (Skarsgard), a wealthy couple whom Ruby and Rhett's parents had appointed as legal guardians for the kids should anything happen to them. While common sense makes one wonder why the Glasses ( instead of, say, Uncle John or Aunt Linda) would get custody when their parents die, but that's just the beginning. Trust me, things get a lot more ludicrous.

Take the crudely placed shocker prelude — a slasher picture Ruby catches with her friends. The aftermath of the tragedy has Erin and Terry heaping on the solicitous comfort to the sudden orphans. If one had any lingering doubts about the sincerity of their concern, Christopher Young's irritating score would dispel them. Like a constant nudging in one's ribs, Young's soundtrack relentlessly underscores Erin and Terry's bad vibes.

Despite her initial suspicions, Ruby slowly starts to relax, especially after the family attorney tells her she and Rhett are financially set for life. But 48 hours later, Ruby's back on the alert. While brother Rhett is happily sedated with the tons of new electronic games and gizmos with which the Glasses have showered him, Ruby feels that something's just not right. If there's no problem with money, why have the Glasses taken her out of her private school and plunked her down in a Malibu public high? Why is Erin's medicine chest filled with morphine? And why is Terry telling her he and Erin don't have much sex anymore while casting leering glances her way?

Oh yeah, "The Glass House" is about as subtle as those leers of Terry's. As our eyes and ears are steered into the unfolding hell in which Ruby and Rhett find themselves, Sobieski watches everything and everyone like a hawk. And though Sobieski does her levelheaded best as the too-smart-for-her-own-good Ruby, it's not enough to overcome Sackheim's overly mannered lensing or Strick's domestic hysteria. The latter comes into play in the inevitable face-off between Sobieski and Skarsgard, which is so overwrought and ridiculous that laughing out loud is one's only option.

For once, it's OK to throw stones; there's nothing to fear from this "Glass House."

Movies are rated out of a possible 5

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