There seems to be a tendency to want blame the ultimate failure of this would-be thriller and cautionary tale (the wages of adultery are hell — even if you don’t have a pet rabbit) on the screenplay and the miscasting of Jennifer Aniston as a femme fatale — while letting Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom off the hook.
I’d certainly be the last person to suggest that Stuart Beattie’s writing isn’t to blame. The amazing absurdities his Collateral screenplay, taken with anything even approaching reality, are again on full display here, and it’s easy to believe he might think this shaggy-adulteress nonsense might surprise viewers. (This presupposes that viewers have never seen Double Indemnity, Body Heat or any number of other films that Derailed touches on.) Similarly, I won’t claim Aniston isn’t miscast. Even with about two pounds of eye makeup, she still comes across as the fresh-scrubbed, cute girl next door (we all went to high school with at least a dozen of her). In this case, she merely looks like she’s masquerading as a “bad girl,” probably for a fancy-dress Rotarian fund-raiser.
But absurd as all this is by itself, Hafstrom has to shoulder some blame for helping to telegraph each and every “surprise” plot twist — over and over and over. The worst of it is that this could have been magnificently overheated trash a la Original Sin, but everyone is taking it all so very seriously — except for Vincent Cassel, who could give lessons in scenery-chewing as the villainous, blackmailing Frenchman.
The setup is classic noir and it’s not bad with its clever use of the meeting between Charles Schine (Clive Owen) and Lucinda Harris (Aniston) on a train (trains being a genre staple). The development of their inevitable relationship isn’t badly done either. The film spends most of its opening detailing Charles’ less-than-wonderful existence and setting up his background, which is not only wise, but also necessary as a plot point. It helps that Owen is playing the role, because he brings a weighty reality to anything he touches. In his hands — no matter how improbable the plot becomes — Charles becomes believable and seems like a real person, not merely a character propelling the movie (which is how everyone else in the film does seem).
By the time our erring couple ends up in the world’s most beautifully art-directed sleazy hotel for their abortive tryst, however, the movie’s well on its way to its transparent twists and turns. The introduction of Philippe Laroche (Cassel) as the baddest of baddies is slickly done and the scene of him breaking into their room, robbing them, pistol-whipping Charles and raping Lucinda has a certain visceral power — until you start examining how any of it came to pass. The upshot of this — the blackmail scheme and Laroche’s power games — is an endless series of clever developments that are all predicated on Charles behaving in increasingly preposterous ways and the audience not noticing the setups (good luck on that score).
Derailed is ultimately a rather tiresome waste — enlivened by a shoot-out that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year, though that clearly wasn’t the intent — that outstays its already tentative welcome. Rated R for strong, disturbing violence, language and some sexuality.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke