If you want an object lesson in miscasting, look no further than Derailed. The two leads are playing roles they aren’t suited for, and what’s worse is that the only chemistry between them is what happens when an acid and a base meet.
The soggy thriller is set in Chicago, except that no one seems to actually be from there. Clive Owen is a suburbanite who works at an ad agency. He also has a daughter with the most serious form of diabetes, which you know is going to come into play at some point. One day on the train to work he meet cutes Jennifer Aniston, and soon they begin the start of the concept of considering an affair.
The film’s off to a bad start. When you see Clive on that commuter train you can’t help but wonder if he’s actually some sort of CIA contract killer trying to get away from his old life. There’s nothing about him that says ‘suburban schmuck.’ But Aniston is worse. Clive can at least act, and even if he’s never really convincing as Just A Guy, he’s got a character. Aniston is playing a woman who is sharp and witty and shrewd and you never for a minute believe it. You never for a moment buy her. The film’s implausible twists (as twists are now expected in thrillers and not just a nice shock. You try to figure out a movie’s twist while waiting in line for popcorn these days) only undermine any scant suspension of disbelief you may have previously afforded the former Friend.
There are moments when Derailed seems like it might be tough. Clive and Jennifer, both married, end up in a seedy motel, and just as they are about to consummate their affair, Seymour Cassel busts in, beats up Clive (this I can actually buy) and then rapes Aniston. But I Spit on Your Grave 2 this won’t be. Cassel blackmails Clive, and his demands get more and more invasive until he begins showing up at the Croupier’s house. Where he meets the wife, played by a small arboreal monkey, aka Melissa George.
But the film is too into the twists it thinks you demand to go with something as old fashioned as a straightforward blackmail/revenge story. Director Mikael Håfström has a sensibility that might be best suited for some sort of grand guignol – the rape and assault scene is both disturbing and darkly funny, and the film includes one death scene that was so well staged and so sudden that it actually made me jump up and gasp before I started laughing. He’s hemmed in by Stuart Beattie’s obvious and pedestrian script, though, and he gets few opportunities to really shine. He spends most of the film servicing the inane plot and trying feebly to hide the twist from us.
Actually, this is the kind of film where there’s a twist, and then an epilogue with another twist quickly followed by a third. If the final image before the end credits had been Clive Owen waking up to find his world undisturbed and that Derailed had been a dream (and I mean Clive Owen, not his character), I wouldn’t have been shocked.
Derailed does boast two strong supporting parts. Cassel is fantastic as the extortionist, and he just bites into the film and shakes it until it submits. He’s playing on a different level than the rest of the rainy glumness in the film, and it’s a joy. RZA delivers the other fun performance, as a mail room guy at Clive Owen’s office. He’s hard to understand but he’s got an animated style that brings life to his scenes. I like Clive Owen, but he’s sort of naturally dour, and RZA makes a great foil.
By the time Derailed sputters to its final shocker, you’ll have forgotten how it all began. For as much skill as Håfström seems to have, this still plays like a made for TV movie on a lot of levels. With different leads, Derailed could have been a passable film, but as it stands the movie is a waste of time.