Clive Owen as Charles Schine
Jennifer Aniston as Lucinda Harris
Vincent Cassel as Philippe Laroche
Melissa George as Deanna Schine
RZA as Winston Boyko
Addison Timlin as Amy Schine
Tom Conti as Elliot
Xzibit as Dexter
Giancarlo Esposito as Detective Church
David Morrissey as Sam
Rachel Blake as Susan
Georgina Chapman as Candy
David Oyelowo as Patrol Officer
While “Derailed” has the potential for being a decent thriller, it’s weakened by a predictable twist and far too many cliches. Maybe that’s because it steals so liberally from other movies that you feel like you’ve seen it before.
Charles Schine (Owen) meets a beautiful businesswoman (Aniston) on a train, but when they go to a hotel room together, their sexual interlude is intruded upon by a vicious thug (Cassel) who threatens to tell their spouses unless they pay him a lot of money.
The basic principle for this type of thriller goes back many decades to the clear-cut master of the genre, Alfred Hitchcock. Many pretenders have tried to create something new and original out of his basic formula of a nice guy, usually a family man, who suddenly finds himself caught up in world of trouble when he makes one bad decision. Based on a book by James Siegel, “Derailed” starts off a bit like Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” but then moves forward to borrow from more modern thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” and “Cape Fear.”
In this case, the nice guy is Charles Schine, an advertising executive with a beautiful wife, who misses his train one morning and realizes he doesn’t have the money for the fare. Before he can be kicked off, he’s saved by a beautiful woman named Lucinda (Aniston, of course), they start talking, and before you know it, they’re getting a room at a seedy hotel to “close the deal.” Unfortunately, they don’t lock their door, and a criminal, played by French actor Vincent Cassel, breaks in and robs them of their belongings and their dignity.
This is not only the start of the real story, but also where things take a down turn, because this criminal’s arrival is marked by such an unpleasant scene that those enjoying the romantic drama up until that point will suddenly find it hard to watch. This unnecessarily violent scene sets the tone for the rest of this grim film, which becomes all about the criminal, his name is LaRoche, blackmailing the duo for a lot of money. The one person Charles can trust is a coworker from the mailroom named Winston, who has just the right background for dealing with LaRoche, having spent time in jail. Of course, that plan backfires as well, and Charles gets deeper and deeper into trouble, as he tries to keep his wife from learning about his infidelity.
While “Derailed” does have a few exciting moments and even one or two shocking surprises, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen it all before. When Charles rushes home to find LaRoche having a pleasant conversation with his wife, you realize that it was taken directly from “Fatal Attraction” albeit with a slightly more violent twist. Other scenes work better, such as the climactic gun battle, but once you figure out the big twist, and you will, there’s few places the story can go after the big reveal. It finally winds up with a satisfying ending, but then a tacked-on epilogue is so predictable that it keeps things from ending on a high note.
Of course, anyone who saw “Croupier” knows that Clive Owen is in his element with this type of thriller. Although he does carry the film with his normal charisma, he also gets to show off a different side of himself, one that is weaker and more vulnerable. Jennifer Aniston fans will probably be disappointed by how little screen time she gets, but this movie probably isn’t something that her fans would enjoy, since her character is stiffer and not nearly as likeable as the Aniston who has starred in so many fun comedies. Though it’s nice seeing these two good-looking actors on screen together, even for as short a time as we do, those expecting a great romance will probably be thrown by the amount of violence.
The movie’s true saving grace is rapper The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, who brings as much personality to Winston as he did to his short segment in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes,” stealing every scene with his hilarious patter. He’s obviously a star in the making and Hollywood should take not and start giving him bigger roles than this one.
Then there’s French actor Vincent Cassell, who plays LaRoche so comical and over-the-top that it’s hard to take him seriously as a threat. He’s basically channeling De Niro from Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” remake, but in this context, it just doesn’t work, since his French accent slips in and out every time he shows up. Still, it’s a stronger performance than his partner in crime, played by rapper Xzibit, who is little more than a stereotype thug with few lines.
Of course, there are many of the plot holes and what-the moments that you might expect from a weak Hitchcock knock-off, but it’s surprising that so many of them slipped by screenwriter Stuart Beattie, who did a much better job with last year’s “Collateral.”
The Bottom Line:
Those who really love thrillers might be able to look past the problems, since there are still enough exciting scenes. Just don’t go in expecting Jennifer Aniston to be in a lot of the movie, because this is Clive Owen’s movie through and through.