I have to admit that Derailed is a film I knew next to nothing about before seeing it. I didn’t even remember hearing the movie’s title before being assigned to review it - never a great sign for a picture. Interestingly enough, as I watched the movie I vaguely recalled once seeing a trailer for it, but it was obviously not something memorable. Over time I suspect the same will hold true for the film itself.
Derailed starts as what seems to be the setup for a modern Fatal Attraction. Clive Owen plays Charles Schine, a man with a moderately happy marriage that’s been strained due to his daughter’s illness (type-I diabetes). By chance, one day he meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), a beautiful and intelligent woman, and the two quickly discover how much they have in common, like moderately-happy marriages. Their interest inevitably leads them to a clandestine meeting in a hotel room, and that’s when the story gets “derailed”.
Instead of the intended affair of passion, the two find themselves at gunpoint as a man breaks into their room. The criminal proceeds to rob them and rape Lucinda, but the real crime comes as the two realize they can’t go to the authorities without revealing to their respective spouses why they were in the hotel to begin with. The crook begins to take advantage of this, shaking Charles down for more money and delivering threats to harm all of the women in Charles's life, from Lucinda to his wife and even his ailing daughter, if he doesn't pay up.
Derailed is not a great film, but it’s not a bad one either. It’s a mediocre movie that begins as a drama and slowly moves over into suspense as the audience wonders when and where the criminal, Laroche (Vincent Cassel), will show up next. It’s a neat trick watching the film set the audience up for one type of story and then suddenly change into a different type of movie altogether. It is a transition, however, that isn't done as quickly as I would have liked, leaving far too much of the movie behind before any action really gets going. On the other hand, that early part of the movie really allows things to be set up so that, when things do get going, we know these characters are and most of their motivations. This makes it even more agonizing later on when Charles has to make a decision about paying off Laroche when we know that the money he has to use is earmarked for his daughter’s future treatments.
My largest complaint about Derailed is how much of the movie’s plot relies on the complete and total idiocy of the main character. In fact, Charles’s stupidity goes so far that, after a point, he loses the sympathy of the audience. It’s hard to feel bad for the situation Charles gets into when, no matter how bad things get, he refuses to do anything about it. He’s an unwitting target that never seems to get wise or do the right thing. For that matter, he doesn't even do what just about any other person in his situation would do. Watching Charles continually placed in a tough situation ends up getting frustrating, especially since so much of it is his own fault, and you just want to shout at the character regardless of his inability to hear you.
Jennifer Aniston’s role in the film is a decided departure from her previous work. From the moment she first appears on screen she exudes a different personality then I’ve ever seen her play before. It’s a more mature Aniston then the one that appeared on television for years as Rachel, and a real sign that she may have some long term lasting power in Hollywood. She’s also one of the strongest performances, although that’s not saying much. Owen and Cassel remain in safe territory for the most part, sticking with the types of personalities they’ve played before. Think of Charles as Owen in Sin City minus the intelligence and most of the sin, and Cassel just plays a rougher version of his Oceans 12 character. The rest of the main characters are rounded out by rappers (Xzibit and RZA), making for an extremely strange mix in the cast.
As I said, Derailed is not a bad film, but neither is it a great film. It’s entertaining enough while watching it, if you can ignore just how ridiculously poor the lead character is in making decisions. However, after a few hours there is little about the movie that will stay with you. If you’re in the mood for a movie that won’t challenge you as a viewer, but will just help you pass the time, you’re in luck. Derailed won’t knock you off any sort of mental track.