derailed_060222032414684_wideweb__300x294What is the RZA doing playing a mailroom worker in the low-rent Miramax leftover Derailed? Either with his Wu Tang Clan or by himself, RZA is one of the cooler musicians around, especially his atmospheric soundtracks for Kill Bill and Ghost Dog. Yet here he is as a mailroom schlep named Winston. While we’re on the subject of wasted talent, what’s Tom Conti doing in this? Fans of his work in movies like Saving Grace and Reuben, Reuben twenty years ago might want to see him in Derailed if they want to get depressed at how much fat and gray hair he’s gained. Oh yeah, and Clive Owen? Jennifer Aniston? Vincent Cassel? These are not untalented people.

I meander because I’m putting off the actual review. Derailed is my least favorite kind of movie to write about, because there’s so little I’m allowed to write about without treading into spoiler territory. I can set it up for you: Owen plays an exhausted family man (his daughter is very ill with diabetes) who encounters Aniston on his train to work. They are both married; she is lonely all the time because hubby is either working or golfing. She seems like a good way for him to stop thinking about his problems for a while. Which turns out to be true — he gains all new problems. The couple impulsively select a dingy hotel for their first tryst, and their foreplay is rudely interrupted by a mugger played by Vincent Cassel, the French actor who specializes in violent men who don’t give a lot of thought to their actions. Cassel steals the lovers’ money, pistol-whips Owen, and rapes Aniston.

Things get worse for Owen, as they always do in such thrillers. He can’t go to the police. He can’t tell his wife. He can’t do much of anything except capitulate when Cassel blackmails him into shaking loose $10,000, then $100,000. And, dear God, he’s been saving that money for seven years for his sick daughter’s experimental diabetes medicine! At some point I wished Owen were in Sin City again and could just shove Cassel’s head into a toilet. I know Owen is trying to show some range, and he was fine in the nonviolent drama Closer, where he still had a bit of a snarl in his voice. Here he’s pretty much a wimp in the mold of Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs, the kind of wimp who must implausibly turn the tables on his brutal nemesis by the end of the movie.

Vincent Cassel almost saves the film, especially when he pays a surprise visit to Owen’s house, posing as one of his clients, and puts on a respectable show of manners for Owen’s clueless wife. His evil is at least fun to watch. I can’t say as much for Jennifer Aniston, who has been trying a bit too hard to shake off the whole comedy thing post-Friends. She’s highly appealing within certain parameters, but there’s a lot here she just can’t pull off. In her final scene she’s utterly blank, perhaps suggesting that she doesn’t really understand what she’s playing — or really doesn’t like it. To say more, again, would venture into the land of spoilers.

Derailed is the American debut of Mikael Håfström, a Swedish director of various horror films. He gets the drab tone of Chicago, the movie’s constantly rainy setting, and he sets up a decent shock when a character exits the movie rather prematurely. But one of Håfström’s favorite gimmicks here — to lay in an ominous thud on the soundtrack whenever Cassel gives Owen an unwanted phone call — is repeated just enough to become laughable. Screenwriter Stuart Beattie, whose Collateral is a much better example of the form, starts off well with sly-verging-on-shy banter between the lovers, but then he brings in tired elements like a homicide cop (Giancarlo Esposito, and, man, he got old) who starts hounding Owen after a murder. Talent is involved everywhere in Derailed, and it all gets trashed in the final reel for the sake of teasing and then appeasing a bored November audience.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, one of the year's worst, thriller

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