Movie review: 'Derailed'

EntertainmentMoviesFinanceVincent CasselJennifer AnistonClive OwenDefense

2½ stars (out of four)

In the vast world of ludicrous plots, and the vaster world of ludicrous plots for thrillers starring handsome celebrities, "Derailed" rings almost logical.

It's a cheap thrill, with twists that later seem evident and foreshadowing that often seems obvious, with a B-movie look and vibe reminiscent of the much tighter "Jagged Edge." But in the words of a certain female movie critic's very smart father: What's wrong with cheap?

Filmed in Chicago before this past summer's big wave of production, "Derailed" stars Clive Owen as Charles Schine, a Chicago advertising exec married to a woman he used to love and father to a daughter whose love is almost enough. We're told in passing that Charles was once a teacher but traded in his blackboard for a high-paying job to foot the high-priced realities of his daughter's Type 1 diabetes.

Charles is the kind of guy whom Oprah or Ty Pennington or Amy Grant would say never does anything for himself. Until he meets Lucinda Harris. And we meet Jennifer Aniston, vixen.

Late for work, Charles boards a Metra train without money or a ticket, and after hearing his unsuccessful negotiation with a cranky conductor, Lucinda, a total stranger with great legs and a clenched jaw, offers to pay his way. Thanks turn to introductions—Lucinda's a financial planner with a powerful and unavailable husband and an adorable daughter—and then to innocent commuter flirtation, drinks, a kiss, phone calls home and a lie.

Now, I know what you're thinking, Team Aniston: Don't do it, Jen! Just 'cause Brad cheated doesn't mean you have to, sister-friend! But there comes a time in every actress' life when, no matter how solidified as the girl next door, she must go dark, show demons, transgress. Or at least that's what I'm assuming Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom, making his English-language debut, was thinking—that, or he cast his movie on Opposite Day (which would explain the schlubbing up of a perfectly chiseled Owen).

Slumming it in a seedy hotel (Lucinda is afraid she'll run into her husband at the Peninsula or the Four Seasons or the Park Hyatt), the two embark on their sexy liaison when—bam—a violent stranger breaks into their room, pistol-whips Charles into semi-consciousness and brutally rapes Lucinda.

We see the rape from Charles' hazy and helpless perspective, with Lucinda's whimpers and her attacker's grunts filling in the blanks. It is an awful, graphic scene—difficult to watch and tonally off—its purpose to drive home the powerlessness of Charles' existence (he can't cure his daughter, he can't save his marriage, he can't protect Lucinda). Its effect was to give me unwelcome nightmares for a good week.

Scared of losing her daughter over infidelity, Lucinda begs Charles to stay away from the police, and the two return to their regularly scheduled lives until the rapist—a French man named Laroche (the always creepy Vincent Cassel)—comes a'calling, threatening Charles' family unless he comes up with big sums of cash.

Soon Charles enlists the help of his ad agency's mail clerk Winston, an ex-con who matter-of-factly admits to killing a man in prison to survive and still holds onto his makeshift knife. (Though Winston could have been played for a thug, Wu-Tang Clan's RZA gives him layers.)

From here, "Derailed" builds a good amount of tension until the Big Twist is revealed (a twist that took me by surprise, later made me feel dumb and, no, I will not even hint at it for fear you might egg my house) and then devolves into a series of smaller, less revelatory, more ridiculous "shockers."

Stuart Beattie, who adapted "Derailed" from a novel by James Siegal, has been a busy man since penning last year's "Collateral," a movie that never felt whole to me, beautiful as it was to look at. But "Derailed" feels too whole, like the writer and director aren't quite sure we get it, so they say it again. (Even the film's opening voiceover—"The morning it all began, began like any other morning"—nibbles away at our imagination, though I dig the retro sentiment.)

That said, before it spirals downward at about the 60-minute mark, "Derailed" defies genre with a much-appreciated logic, cheap thrills that do their job and some unusual, against-type performances—redeemed if not by its drawn-out finale then by its ultimate message: Men, don't cheat.

abenedikt@tribune.com

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'Derailed'

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom; written by Stuart Beattie; photographed by Peter Biziou; edited by Peter Boyle; production designed by Andrew Laws; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura. A Weinstein Company release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: R (strong disturbing violence, language and some sexuality).

Charles Schine - Clive Owen

Lucinda Harris - Jennifer Aniston

Laroche - Vincent Cassel

Winston - RZA

Dexter - Xzibit

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentMoviesFinanceVincent CasselJennifer AnistonClive OwenDefense
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