November 14, 2005

Derailed1 1/2 Stars

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Don’t you hate it when, just when you think you’ve got a movie pinned for its dead-end vacuity, it pulls the old one-two fast one, knocking the movie a full180 degrees? There’s nothing more embarrassing or enraging. You’ve been hoodwinked, flimflammed, hornswoggled – all those moments you thought were silly and contrived ended up fitting perfectly into the plot, which was so cleverly constructed that it made you feel like the dumb one. Derailed tried to do this to me, but I had predicted the twist and swatted away its devious attempt to throw me for a loop. Unimpressed by the plot twist, I was in complete control of my emotions about the movie. And yes, it is ridiculous before the wrench gets thrown in the cogs and continues to be so afterwards.

I won’t reveal the “surprise,” but I will describe what the movie is about as it sets up for the big turn. Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is a commercial adviser for a big firm in Chicago. He is haggard and weary, works too many hours, he has a long commute to and from work every day, and when he gets home, has to constantly worry about his teenage daughter who has Type I Diabetes, which could send her into a seizure at any moment. He and his wife (Melissa George) have been saving up for seven years to buy the best medical treatment for their daughter so that she may live a semi-normal life.

In between all the chaos and stress, he meets Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a young, attractive, intelligent financial adviser who, it turns out, also has a stressful life and a young daughter. At first, the two merely provide each other company, and they exchange tales of home-life woes. But then again, they are both miserable, young and attractive, such complementary components for an affair.

So one night they sneak off to a hotel, but here things turn ugly. A bubble-poppin’, ski-mask wearin’, grinning, perverted stranger, Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel), enters the room (they forget to lock the door), steals their wallets, knocks Charles unconscious and rapes Lucinda. What should merely be a savage, isolated incident turns into prolonged suffering, as the man continues to harass Charles and Lucinda. He wants $20,000 one month and then $100,000 the next, precious money that Charles had been saving for treatment for his daughter. Why won’t this man leave them alone? The answer, my friend, is in the stars that will be floating above your head after the one-two punch (or, if you’re like me, you’ll see it far before the punch).

And if you’re not impressed by that answer, as I’m not, then there is nothing else meritorious about the film. Oddly, the only criticism I have to offer is based on nothing more than a list of ridiculous moments. That’s all that sticks out – nothing about style, nothing about the acting, nothing about the direction. Sure, it tries to evoke some sentimentality, and perhaps it is a commentary on infidelity and deception, but all that stands out is the absurdness of the plot, which may have something to do with the director’s heavy reliance on it.

For instance, Cassel’ s character, for all the beating he suffers, must be immortal; he’s harder to kill than a cockroach. And two of the most ridiculous roles are filled by everyone’s favorite rappers: Xzibit and RZA!! The former does a lot of scowling and leering and “Let’s get ’em, boss”-ing. The latter is Charles’s quasi-counselor whose fate strangely becomes the moral center point of the movie. Finally, let me give these characters and all future characters who face the same dilemma some advice: call the police. Just call the police.

Derailed is a sprawling, laughable mess that should be promptly swept under the rug, where it can join all the other cheap, convoluted shock-fests. Maybe there they can all scheme to knock each other for one loop after another, and Mr. Laroche can duke it out with Michael Myers and Chucky.

Archived article by Terry Fedigan
Sun Staff Writer