Borrowing plot elements from countless superior films ranging from 1944's "Double Indemnity" to 1987's "Fatal Attraction" to 1998's "Palmetto" to 2002's "Unfaithful
," "Derailed" is a thriller too obvious to thrill and too shopworn to rise above yesterday's news. Directed with a sleek sheen but not much originality or style by Mikael Hafstrom, the picture either moves too lugubriously or just feels that way because it's all been seen before, and with a clearer sense of purpose. Thank goodness, then, for Clive Owen (2005's "Sin City
"), who is such an intense and intuitive actor that he can make even a pulpy throwaway like this appear to have more substance whenever he is on the screen.
For a time, screenwriter Stuart Beattie (2004's "Collateral
") seems to be setting "Derailed" up as a harsh morality tale, but the picture loses its way with a series of implausibilities and muddily-handled relationships. Commuting to his advertising job one morning, Charles Schine (Clive Owen) finds that he has no money to pay the train fare. Stepping in to help is financial analyst Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston). After getting him out of a jam, Charles and Lucinda begin to chat and, to their surprise, hit it off. Both parties are involved in rocky marriages and have a childCharles' daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin), suffers from severe diabetes and three transplanted kidneys have been rejected by her bodybut that doesn't stop them from getting a hotel room late one night while in the heat of passion.
Before they have time to consummate their relationship, dangerous thug Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel) barges into their room, beats Charlie up and steals his wallet, and brutally rapes Lucinda. Unable to go to the police because Lucinda doesn't want anyone to know about their intended affair, Charles blames his wounds on a random mugging and attempts to go on with his usual routine. Things are never that easy in the world of crime thrillers, however, and soon Philippe is back harassing Charles, posing as his business partner while hanging around the house with his wife (Melissa George) and kid, and blackmailing him for $100,000. If he doesn't pay up, his familyand Lucindawill be killed.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the genre who is paying attention will be able to guess almost from the start where things are headed. The would-be surprise twist that "Derailed" hinges upon is so predictable, in fact, that it is difficult to invest in Charles' and Lucinda's early flirtatious interplay and the complications that later arise from it. If director Mikael Hafstrom intended for the film to be a "don't-cheat-on-your-spouse" diatribe, he fails by a wide margin, with Charles' ultimate owning-up to wife Deanna maddeningly occurring offscreen. Thus, the only detectable moral of the story plays like a limp afterthought to what is really nothing more than a generic cat-and-mouse suspenser.
Along the oft-traveled plot trajectory is some solid character work. Clive Owen, his American accent so seamless that the viewer immediately forgets he's a Brit, continues a recent string of fine performances as Charles Schine, a flawed protagonist who must come to terms with the mistakes he's made while trying to spare the lives of his wife and sickly daughter. Owen is especially arresting in the second half, as he gets further and further in hot water after being suspected of a murder Philippe committed. As despicable villain Philippe, Vincent Cassel (2004's "Ocean's Twelve
") plays grimy, slimy and hateful with the best of them. More surprising is rap artist The RZA (2003's "Scary Movie 3
"), eloquently textural in his role as Winston, a friendly mailroom clerk whom Charles turns to for advice. The only glaring miscasting of the piece is Jennifer Aniston (2004's "Along Came Polly
"), playing against-type as tempting adulteress Lucinda Harris and not doing a very convincing job of it. Aniston isn't exactly bad, but her part has been shadily conceived and the usually reliable actress has a hard time making her scenes look like more than dress rehearsal.
As far as dramatic thrillers go about marital infidelity, the scary "Fatal Attraction" and deeply moving "Unfaithful
" already have the market cornered. What "Derailed" brings to the plate feels like sloppy seconds. Lacking in depth from all angles, save for what the actors bring to their roles, the film heads toward a first conclusion that is easily foretold, and a shallow second ending worse than the first that turns toward slasher movie theatrics where the thought-to-be-dead killer comes back for one last confrontation. As a motion picture to just waste some time with when it shows up for free on cable, things could be a lot worse, but as a theatrical experience, the emptiness at the film's core leaves much to be desired. By the time "Derailed" settles into dreary, sloppy thriller mode at the thirty-minute mark, there is ultimately no finding its way back on the tracks.