Changing Lanes

Movie Information

Genre: Drama
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, Kim Staunton, Wiliam Hurt
Rated: R

I have no earthly idea just what it is that so many critics are seeing in this monumentally stupid waste of an astonishing array of talent. There are more plot holes, unrealistic coincidences and unbelievable contrivances per square inch of Changing Lanes than there are cars on F.D.R. Drive (where the movie’s plot is set in motion). Hotshot yuppie lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is on his way to a hearing concerned with who’s in control of a gigantic philanthropic organization when he’s involved in a car accident with Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), an insurance agent. Gipson is also on his way to court — in his case, to try and keep his estranged wife from taking their children to live in Oregon by reporting that he’s buying them a “dream” house in Queens. In their subsequent encounter, Banek, who treats Gipson shabbily, conveniently drops the folder that contains his key piece of evidence — and thereby hangs the plot. Since Banek refuses to even give Gipson a ride, leaving him stranded on the road, Gipson misses his court date and his case. Ah, but Banek is in a bad way, since he’s missing his folder and Gipson is in no mood to return it. In an unbelievable series of coincidences, Gipson and Banek cross paths, end up at cross-purposes and finally set out to destroy each other. Coincidence piles on top of coincidence and contrivance on top of contrivance in such rapid succession that the film becomes exasperatingly funny. The whole movie — with very little alteration — could, in fact, be played for comedy. At every turn, believability is ignored in favor of plot devices that keep the paper-thin story going. Why, for example, doesn’t the wealthy Banek just buy Gipson his “dream” house rather than become further embroiled in the no-win situation? The film seems to believe that it’s covered this base because of Gipson’s early insistence on doing things “right.” As the film unfolds, however, that theory doesn’t really hold water, since it’s hardly doing things “right” when Gipson opts to revenge himself on Banek rather than return the folder. Once Banek’s boss learns what has happened (or at least learns Banek’s pointlessly embroidered version of it), he cooks up a scheme to forge the necessary documents. Fair enough. The problem is that much is made of getting Banek to do this himself, only to have it done for him. Why didn’t the Pollack character just go ahead and do it himself in the first place? The film then can’t leave bad enough alone, since after it no longer matters, the feud over the damned folder is still raging? Why? Well, mostly because the film would otherwise grind to an obviously pointless climax instead of convolutedly working its way around to a more complex, but almost equally pointless, climax. Directed with strained artsiness by Roger Michell, the favored trick of the movie is to play dialogue from one scene while showing another by way of scene transitions. Most of the film is amazingly graceless, and, in fact, seems to owe more to co-writer Michael Tolkin than to director Michell. The humorlessness of it all, the heavy-handed “importance” of its message (whatever that message is), the awkward and arbitrary injection of religious symbolism seems to have much more in common with the writer-director of The Rapture than with the director of Notting Hill. Ultimately, it’s an aggressively unpleasant film. Solid performances (especially from Samuel L. Jackson) from its cast don’t do anything to alter the fact that all of Changing Lanes myriad improbabilities lead to very little.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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