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Derailed (2005)


During a recent interview, Derailed star Jennifer Aniston admitted that a close friend figured out the movie’s driving twist after watching the trailer. Was the comment high praise for her pal’s psychic abilities or a none-too-subtle dig at the obviousness of the linear plot?

Sadly, it’s the latter. Derailed opens with a tantalizing scenario that threatens to go down a host of intriguing avenues until novelist James Siegel and screenwriter Stuart Beattie opt for the obvious paths. Note to savvy readers: If you suspect someone is in cahoots with the movie’s main killer, you’re right. They are. Except for that one guy, who actually does die, though you’d be willing to wager $100 he’ll turn up again in the end. He doesn’t.

Aniston plays Lucinda, a Good Samaritan willing to pay train fare for cashless Charles (Clive Owen) as they trek to Chicago on the same commuter line. Flirtations suggest a mutual attraction, though Charles remains nagged by his commitments at home, to his daughter (Addison Timlin) – a Type-1 diabetic – and the wife (Melissa George) who stopped kissing him goodbye years ago.

Both actors wear the hangdog faces of lonely souls bored by their ruts, and we grasp their excitement of encountering something new. Lucinda lights Charles’ fire simply by holding up her end of the conversation. They don’t discuss anything of importance – their kids, their spouses, their backgrounds. But it’s still conversation, and we’re led to believe there’s very little talk happening in their suburban homes.

Despite their better judgments, the two explore a physical relationship. Charles pays for a hotel room in a seedy part of town, and adultery peeks her head over the horizon. That’s when Derailed unleashes the surprise of violence. A thief (Vincent Cassel) breaks in, talking tough and clobbering Charles. As robbery-at-gunpoint transitions to rape, Derailed pushes mainstream envelopes and Aniston’s Friends audience start eyeballing the exits.

What follows is a blackmail plot executed with uncertain hands by a Swedish director, Mikael Håfström, making his U.S. debut. The aggressive chemistry provided by an oily Cassel and an irritated Owen goes untapped. The antagonistic men, along with Aniston, play their best sleight-of-hand tricks for as long as possible while Håfström thwarts their efforts by shining light on enormous clues.

Shane Black’s sarcastic Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang masquerades as a thriller but knows it’s a comedy. Håfström turns Derailed into a thriller that generates far too many laughs. Characters are neglected, huge sums of money are exchanged with nary a ripple, and the great Giancarlo Esposito swings by as Chicago’s only detective to guide all puzzle pieces firmly into place. Even when Kiss Kiss tacks too many false finishes to its twisty storyline, the knowing narrator jokes that he’s seen Lord of the Rings and he won’t let this picture drag on. Based on the number of surprise endings that parade through the final minutes of Derailed, it’s safe to assume Håfström bypassed Return of the King and rented The Sixth Sense for the seventeenth time.

The lesson learned? If you’re going to cheat, spring for a quality hotel, for there’s a better chance the front desk clerk can’t be bought.

DVD extras (on this unrated version of the film) include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

Let’s get you out of those wet things.