It’s probably fitting that the Weinstein brothers’ first release after their gory split with Disney deals with shattered marital fidelity and the vengeance rained down upon the guilty party. They must, however, be a little bummed that Derailed isn’t quite a consummate kiss-off. In the wake of A History of Violence, which wickedly subverts the vigilante genre, this “shield the family” thriller doesn’t add any nuance to the conversation. That said, as the harried adman whose hormone-spurred bad judgment leads down a nightmare rabbit hole, Clive Owen proves he can just about save anything. His hangdog virility in Closer provided the heft and hurt that made the otherwise mannered roundelay seem credible. Here, he smolderingly complicates the moldy Fatal Attraction morality tale we’ve seen so many times before.
As his shifty train companion and object of desire, Jennifer Aniston makes a dazzling corpo-flirt. Her knowing delivery turns dim lines into effective, sexy quips. Like In Her Shoes, the script is hampered by lots of sub-HBO interstitial banter. At one point, when RZA, who successfully milks his role as Owen’s ex-con mailroom pal, asks his friend to list baseball players with 11-letter surnames, Owen rattles them off like he’s been waiting for this particular question all his life. Later, Owen’s teacher wife, played by Melissa George (that the couple has a pre-teen daughter seems bizarre), risibly laments that she “handed out an English composition during math hour.” Of all possible teacher gripes, this?
In terms of taut plot, Derailed doesn’t exactly hold together either, but it’s good at pretending it does. Mikael Hafstrom’s direction, in the noir vein, moves along with a satisfying pulse. He views Chi-town with European eyes, giving the El a kind of elegance and the fratty Rush Street bar scene some funny cosmopolitan frisson.
As a sign of post-Miramax films to come, Derailed hints at the brothers W’s trademark brio over detail, suffering too in some ways from the untrammeled hotness of its villain. Ocean’s Twelve‘s criminal sophisto-cad Vincent Cassel gambles big on crafting an iconic scary-comic malefactor like Nicholson’s Shining schizo, or more modestly, De Niro’s Cape Fear water moccasin. But as a French-accented baddie in the heart of a hog-butcher town, he instead veers dangerously toward Robert Shaw’s subway hijacker in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three—a cartoonish archvillain with a nagging sense of decorum. His rough methods make him a sort of street-scrapping Hannibal Lecter. But like Shaw, as Derailed wears on, Cassel starts to seem fatigued with his own brash demands, overblown psycho constructs, and slithery ripostes. Ultimately, he’s just too smooth for the story’s thug tactics. There must be easier ways for this guy to skim from yuppie scum. You want to hand him a Scotch and suggest he take up insider trading.