Owen and Aniston cannot keep film on track

by Beacon Staff • November 9, 2005

Derailed is Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom's first English-language film. Hafstrom recently directed Evil, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. His decision to make Derailed, which is his introduction to American cinema, however, makes it questionable whether he bothered to learn English before reading the script. Derailed will probably be promoted as a shocking and intelligent thriller, but it is more predictable and silly than it is sensational.

Early on, the film's main character, Charles Schine (Clive Owen), is approached by a train conductor to collect the fare on his commute to Chicago, which is part of his mundane daily routine. Unfortunately, Charles absent-mindedly forgot to refill his wallet after emptying it for his wife earlier that morning. He is told to exit the train at the next stop by the conductor, but is saved by a seemingly philanthropic female passenger who gives him nine dollars. Due to a feeling of friendly obligation, Charles approaches the woman, Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), to express his gratitude and chat.

And what a coincidence, Lucinda and Charles have a large amount in common. They are both successful businesspeople (she's a financial advisor, he's an advertising executive), parents to cute daughters and partners in estranged marriages. Lucinda is a coquette, and Charles decides to reimburse her in a non-monetary way: he takes her out for a fancy dinner.

They are supposed to have chemistry (which does not come through) and decide to have a brief affair. While fooling around in a two-bit hotel room, an unwelcome criminal rudely interrupts, beats and robs the unfaithful lovers.

He leaves and Charles and Lucinda survive, but they soon become part of a perilous plot filled with blackmail, deceit and implausibility.

Derailed is based on the bestselling book by James Siegel. There are few films that so smugly wear the impending narrative twists on their sleeves.

Within the first act, there are dozens of blatant innuendos which are meant to be cleverly ironic, but which any astute viewer will find overly informative and patronizing.

In one of the first scenes, Charles' daughter asks for help on her book report. She claims that she has not read the book, but knows the ending because she saw the movie. This moment should be an impetus for many audience members to vacate the theater and read the book instead. Hopefully, most will leave before hearing how the dialogue gets worse. It seems as if, after the large success of the book, the film was thrown together in a slapdash manner and promptly cast with the biggest modestly priced stars on the market.

Aniston's fans will be disappointed-not only because of her lack of screen time, but also because she is woefully miscast, as is Owen, who was recently robbed of an Oscar for a fantastically perverted performance in Closer. Owen seems to make the best of his miscasting, while Aniston appears to give up after a few lines of dialogue.

Fortunately, Vincent Cassel, who portrays the repulsive villain to slimy perfection, is an impossible actor to miscast. He deftly exhibits his versatility in the film's only tense scenes. Although Owen and Aniston are somewhat respectable actors, they do not even attempt to fight with Cassel for scenes. Much like when his character interrupts the protagonist's pre-coital bliss, Cassel consistently assaults Owen and Aniston's performances. Cassel is menacing, sleazy, greedy, ruthless and the beacon of light in a terribly second rate film.

Keeping in line with the economically-driven casting choices, the film features two rappers, Robert 'the RZA' Diggs and Xzibit, who adequately play their meager roles. Due to his appropriate name and the film's frivolity, Ludacris would have made a perfect casting choice instead.

Derailed has a one-track mind-it only wants to shock the audience. And when the surprises fail to deliver, the film underwhelms. Taking a cue from the theme of infidelity, it cheats the audience. Derailed cheaply opts to victimize a diseased child to elicit pathos instead of creating genuine characters.

The film is at its strongest when it implicitly provokes the question: "what would you do in this situation?" Unfortunately, it sets up such contrived occurrences that the audience is only allotted a couple of answers. The protagonist, naturally, always chooses the least audacious way to temporarily solve a quagmire.

Worst of all, Derailed's twists are haughtily presented, as if they were neither predictable nor foolish. The film expects to derail the viewer, but its tendency to pander only derails itself off the track, careening toward mediocrity.

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