Clive Owen is an actor of enormous charisma, a tough vulnerability, and a not inconsiderable amount of animal magnetism, none of which are on display in DERAILED, a ridiculously overplotted and underthought exercise in muddled filmmaking. Blame director Mikael Hafstrom for quashing Owen’s appeal along with everything else that threatens to light up his film. Blame the casting, too. Jennifer Aniston as Owen’s would-be fling demonstrates that her strength lies in the light entertainment that is the weekly sit-com, not in a role that demands emotion beyond a coquettish flirtation or a sulky pout.
They play Charles and Lucinda, upper-middle class strangers on a commuter train who meet by chance and get friendlier than they should. They’re both in marriages that aren’t bad, but certainly aren’t good, he with a critically ill child that is draining his finances and his emotional life with his lovely wife, she with a husband who is never there. Banter leads to lunch, lunch leads to dinner, dinner leads to drinks, and hormones being what they are, they find themselves at an almost seedy hotel contemplating adultery. Things turn out badly, thanks to a low-rent thug (the creepily wonderful Vincent Cassal) who interrupts the festivities and who becomes a blackmailing thorn in Charles’ side. The police are out of the question because Lucinda’s husband would react badly and take custody of their child, and so basically decent Charles becomes a punching bag and cash machine for the bad guy.
It’s not that the premise is a bad one, but the execution is a disaster from the get go. Owen and Aniston fail to generate any heat, much less the lustful longings necessary. Their cuddling is not so much erotic as endless. The twists are obvious way before the reveals, and the necessary tension and suspense far from being built up at all by the acting or directing, are superseded by Charles’ overwhelming stupidity at every turn as he looks on the world with eyes that are as confused as the storyline. Having him turn, for example, to the ex-con mailroom guy (RZA) for help when things turn ugly. When he’s threatened with great bodily harm, as he is on a regular basis, the only sensible reaction is to hope that this time he will actually be terminated and thus have his genes taken out of the pool for the good of humanity. Owen is an actor capable of much, much more than he’s allowed here. As for Aniston, her shortcomings are only underscored with such artistic choices as having her character, a financial advisor at a top-flight firm, dress for success by having her see-through blouse match the lacy and barely-there camisole underneath.
DERAILED thinks its clever, and that’s only slightly more annoying than the overweening score that tries very hard to make a point about the action on screen, but fails. The only reason to spend any time thinking about all this is to wonder why any studio thought it would be a good idea to foist this on paying cinema audience instead of letting it sit quietly and undisturbed forever on a shelf somewhere.