Directed by Daniel Sackheim, starring Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, Stellan Skarsgård, Trevor Morgan, Michael O'Keefe, Bruce Dern and Chris Noth.

In the week after the September 11 atrocities in New York and Washington, new US movie releases were, naturally enough, deluged by the collective outpouring of grief and horror which has left an indelible mark on the American psyche. Yet almost every movie fan can point to a particular low time in his or her life when a magical two hours provided a temporary refuge bubble from the horrors of reality. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, such magical escapism was never in so much demand. So did US audiences get another 'Shawshank Redemption', 'As Good As It Gets' or 'Jerry Maguire'? Not exactly. They got 'Hardball', a baseball comedy with Keanu Reeves, and this, 'The Glass House', with rising starlet Leelee Sobieski and Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

Sobieski plays Ruby Baker, a teenager with the usual teenage preoccupation of rebellion looming large on her mind. Ruby thinks her parents are too strict, that her little brother is a moron, and that she knows everything there is to know about life and death. At least that's the impression we get, because it isn't long before we realise that director Daniel Sackheim's sense of pacing is totally erratic. No sooner are we trying to grasp a limply offered entrée into Ruby's world when that world is irreversibly changed on the death of her parents in a car accident. Numbed by the horrific twist of fate their lives have taken, Ruby and her brother Rhett (Morgan) are entrusted into the care of their parents' best friends, Terry and Erin Glass (Skarsgard and Lane).

In the circumstances, the Glass house, or rather homestead, provides Ruby and Rhett with an ostensibly stable background in which to deal with their tragic loss. Terry is a successful businessman, Erin is a doctor, and together, it seems, they can provide the orphans with a financial and emotional bedrock for the years ahead.

As expected, things are not what they seem. Under the public guise of perfection that the Glasses exude, Ruby detects darker aspects to the dynamic. Her suspicions are gradually reinforced through an overly tactile car encounter with Terry, the discovery of Erin shooting up, and witnessing Terry being roughed up by some irritated creditors. Eventually, Ruby is spurred to action when she realises Terry's plan to get his sullied paws on Ruby and Rhett's trust fund.

Routine in the extreme, 'The Glass House' is the kind of feature one expects to encounter on any (bad) midweek terrestrial TV schedule. The scenario of the evil surrogate parents is hardly novel, and with debut director Sackheim struggling to infuse the pedestrian plot with any sense of vigour, 'The Glass House' is rendered less memorable with every passing minute. The performances, especially that of the promising Sobieski, are more than adequate, but satisfying performances do not a satisfying movie make.

'Hardball' anyone?

Tom Grealis