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(2005) (Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A married man must contend with a violent thug's extortion of him after that man catches him about to have an affair with another woman.
Charles Schine (CLIVE OWEN) is a commercial executive whose marriage to wife Deanne (MELISSA GEORGE) might be strained, but their love for their diabetic daughter Amy (ADDISON TIMLIN) -- whose medical needs has financially tapped them -- isn't in question.

One day, while on the way to work via the commuter train, Charles realizes he doesn't have enough money to pay for his ticket. Just then, a stranger, financial worker Lucinda Harris (JENNIFER ANISTON), offers to pay his way. The two end up becoming commuting friends, eventually leading to lunches and then the thoughts of having a fling despite her saying she's also married, albeit unhappily, with a child. After a night of drinking and some hesitation on both their parts, they get a room.

And then the door bursts open and Laroche (VINCENT CASSEL), a French thug storms in to rob them, but ends up beating up Charles and sexually assaulting Lucinda. Stating that her husband would take their daughter if he learned she was cheating on him, Lucinda tells Charles they can't call the police. Thus, he lies to both his family and coworkers, such as mail room guy Winston Boyko (THE RZA), about being mugged.

He thinks the incident is behind him, but then Laroche -- who has his and Lucinda's wallets -- calls him up, demanding money since Charles canceled his credit cards. Charles complies, meeting Laroche's violent accomplice Dexter (XZIBIT) in the process, but then realizes he's never going to get rid of Laroche who's embedded himself deeper into Charles' life and family, with Deanne and Amy unaware of who or what he really is, and with Charles unable to tell them lest his adulterous ways be revealed.

Charles then decides to bring in outside help, but when that person is killed, he must not only deal with a local cop, Detective Church (GIANCARLO ESPOSITO), thinking he's the prime suspect, but also Laroche who's becoming increasingly demanding and dangerous to him and his family.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Hollywood isn't generally known as being a collective entity of moral do-gooders, at least when it comes to the movies it routinely pumps out. While the bad guys usually end up defeated and/or dead by the time the end credits roll, most of the films don't have strong right or wrong messages. What they do seem to favor, however, is starting out as morality type plays and then using that setup as the catalyst for turning the story in another direction.

Take, for example, "Fatal Attraction." That 1987 film starts out as a domestic drama about a corporate lawyer who is seduced -- while his wife's out of town -- into an affair by a book editor. Yet, rather than being an examination of what make spouses stray and the repercussions thereof (at least within that relationship), it turns into a suspenseful thriller where the increasingly psychotic vixen takes out her anger on the man and his family after he deems her just a one-night stand.

Flash forward nearly twenty years and we have "Derailed," a film that initially looks like it's going to be a familial drama about an advertising executive -- Clive Owen -- whose marriage has cooled considerably, no doubt exacerbated by his young daughter's life-threatening medical condition. A chance encounter on a commuter train with a friendly financial advisor, however, turns his world upside down as the two become friendly and then decide to head off for a fling.

Since the ads for the film give away the fact that it's a thriller, we obviously realize that those early plot elements -- adapted from James Seigel's novel by screenwriter Stuart Beattie ("Collateral") -- are just set-ups for what's to follow. Yet, rather than having Jennifer Aniston's character go Glenn Close on him following their affair, the story introduces a different villain -- embodied by Vincent Cassell -- who gives a new meaning to the term coitus interruptus by breaking down their door, robbing and then assaulting them.

As in most such Hollywood thrillers, the villain doesn't quit there and thus decides to make the main character's life a living hell, this time by repeatedly extorting cash from him when not hanging out and acting all chummy with the wifey and sick kid who have no idea who or what he really is. While certainly not original, the film certainly would seem to have its ducks in a row as far as being a potentially riveting thriller. Yet, while it's not abysmal, it's certainly not as thrilling as it needs to be or could and should have been.

Part of that stems from a revelation/discovery later in the film that spins things around in a new direction. I can't really explain it without giving away the twist, but let's just say that while it may have worked on paper (in Seigel's novel and/or the screenplay), its execution isn't sharp or tight enough to throw us for a loop.

It also leads to a series of "but what about" doubts and questions regarding various character actions, reactions and motivations. In hindsight, not all of them are believable (particularly Owen's character risking everything by not going to the police just because Aniston's told him he shouldn't). And once everything is laid out, the supposedly carefully calculated plot (on part of both the film and the villains) is shown to be filled with too many coincidences, lucky breaks (for the villains) and/or far-fetched elements to be credible.

Then there's the fact that director Mikael Håfström (who previously helmed the Swedish film "Evil") foreshadows things a bit too much regarding the pending twist. It's not completely telegraphed and thus may still surprise some viewers, but certain bits and pieces -- mainly consisting of some odd bits of dialogue out of one character's mouth -- are too obvious in their nature.

The biggest fault, however, lies with the casting and the relationships and/or chemistry (or lack thereof) between the main characters. While all are competent in what they put up on the screen, Owen, Aniston and Cassell simply feel wrong for their roles, at least in terms of how they would otherwise seem to interact.

The chemistry never feels hot and steamy enough between the first two regarding their affair (think of Hurt and Turner in "Body Heat for a good/believable example) and Aniston's character, however beautiful she may be, isn't hypnotically alluring enough for Owen's character to risk everything -- especially his daughter's well-being -- just for a romp in the hay. Some may fault the TV turned movie actress for flat acting, but she's somewhat hampered by plot mechanisms that somewhat explain the performance.

Then there's the adversarial relationship between the two men. I'm sorry, but it certainly seems that Owen could kick Cassell's rear back to France or whatever French-speaking country whence his character is supposed to originate. I know, it's more psychological terror than actual physical harm (although that occurs), but I just didn't get the same sort of vibe that made the remake of "Cape Fear" work in that regard (where De Niro's character was decidedly smaller than Nolte's). The tactics used by both to try to defeat the other are never quite creative or believable enough to make us really care.

And that's the film's biggest problem - it simply isn't that gripping. Sure, characters played by the likes of Giancarlo Esposito and The RZA are present to add complications and developments that are supposed to ratchet up the suspense, but the overall production feels too flat to become a classic in the genre. While it might not jump the track completely and turn into a hideous cinematic train wreck, "Derailed" certainly stays true to its titular definition in terms of not achieving its desired result. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 4, 2005 / Posted November 11, 2005

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