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With: Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George, The RZA, Addison Timlin, Xzibit, Giancarlo Esposito
Written by: Stuart Beattie, based on a novel by James Siegel
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violence, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 107
Date: 11/11/2005

Derailed (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

On the Trite Track

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The word "derailed" is another way of saying "off-track," which is exactly what happens to the new Derailed, yet another in a long series of post-Sixth Sense twist-ending thrillers.

After enough of these, how can we trust any movie characters anymore? Expecting a double cross, the audience simply clams up and keeps its distance. Why should we get involved with these people, when any one of them could be the bad guy?

Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is the only one in the clear; he's the mark, the dupe, the pushover. Charles lives in a constant state of fear. His teenage daughter is chronically ill, and needs constant monitoring. Charles and his wife Deanna (Melissa George) have take out a second mortgage to pay for her medical care.

They're both teachers, but now Charles works a design job that he hates just to help pay their enormous bills. Moreover, Deanna and Charles no longer have the time or the patience to pay attention to one another.

So the lonely, terrified Charles catches his train to work one morning, and realizes that Deanna has snatched the last of his cash. A lovely stranger, Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), offers to buy his ticket and they strike up a conversation. Charles finds himself dreaming of her, and soon he's lying to his wife and meeting Lucinda for after-work drinks.

This brings up the Fatal Attraction factor: why would this guy sleep with another woman when he's married to a gorgeous hottie like Melissa George (probably best known for her role as a baddie on TV's "Alias")?

Charles and Lucinda retreat to a sleazy, out-of-the-way hotel, and before they can consummate their illicit love, a nasty, sadistic mugger (Vincent Cassel) steps in, rapes Lucinda and looks at their IDs. Later he turns out to be a blackmailer, bilking poor Charles out of whatever money he can scrape up to keep the incident a secret.

Actually Cassel (Ocean's Twelve) represents the only thing the casting directors did right. He always plays a sleazy, evil Frenchman, and his pointy face and glinting eyes make him seem untrustworthy even when he does land a heroic role. Owen does not jibe as the passive, weakling hero; his strong face and fathomless eyes suggest hidden strengths that never come out. Likewise, Aniston's character is supposed to be a chilly, corporate type, when in reality, she's most appealing in sweats and a hair ribbon.

And by the way, how does the blackmailer get away with his scheme when he interrupted before the couple could have sex? The answer is because Charles would be an "unlikable" hero if he actually went through with it and officially became an adulterer. That's the difference between a brave movie and this timid one.

Swedish director Mikael Håfström makes his American debut with Derailed, and it's not hard to see why his previous features never found distribution here. He fails to get inside the material, or to find a consistent tone. His icy, distant glare is most of the reason we can't trust these characters. And like most other misguided directors, he drags the action out for too long, dulling any prickles he may have inadvertently earned.

Håfström's failure becomes clearer when we look at the screenplay by Stuart Beattie, who adapted a novel by James Siegel. Beattie also wrote last year's Collateral, which was also a narrow, half-baked idea for a thriller, but with the proper casting and slick direction by Michael Mann, it turned into something worth seeing.

Only The RZA (Coffee and Cigarettes), stepping in for his first real acting part and taking a thankless supporting role, brings the movie some zest. As an office grunt who takes a shine to Charles, The RZA uses his slurred speech and jazzy body language to liven the role beyond the written page, and he provides the only real surprise Derailed has up its sleeve.

Thanks to that and a few other moments, Derailed doesn't completely jump the tracks, but it spends most of its time searching for a groove and never finding it.

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