Basically “Unfaithful” for men, “Derailed” is a nightmarish cautionary tale about a husband who strays from the marriage bed and ends up paying for it throughout the rest of the movie. Predicated on the novel but unrewarding spectacle of Clive Owen getting smacked around for nearly two hours, this murky psychological suspenser manages the tricky feat of being as predictable as it is finally preposterous. One can only hope it will be mostly uphill from here, artistically and commercially, for the fledgling Weinstein Co., whose first release this is.
Pic reps a fascinating intersection of cultures both in front of and behind the camera: Directed by Swedish helmer Mikael Hafstrom, here making his Hollywood debut, the cast features two Euro thesps (Owen and Vincent Cassel), two hip-hop artists (RZA and Xzibit) and one all-American sweetheart (Jennifer Aniston). Result is a perplexing stew that, in its insoluble blend of tones, temperaments and hackneyed genre standards, at times plays like a high-toned exploitation picture.
Charles Schine (Owen) is on the verge of a mid-life crisis, underappreciated by his wife Deanna (Melissa George), their sickly daughter Amy (Addison Timlin) and the swanky Chicago advertising firm where he works. A missed train hurls him into the path of the lovely, sassy Lucinda Harris (Aniston), who turns out to have an unhappy marriage and a daughter of her own.
After some initial flirting that somewhat ill-advisedly references Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint’s naughty transcontinental banter in “North by Northwest,” Charles and Lucinda begin to date and confide in one another. Just as they are about to consummate their relationship, however, a Gallic gunman named LaRoche (Cassel) bursts into their motel room, beats Charles to a pulp, steals his wallet and, in a hideous, leering scene, forces himself on Lucinda while her would-be lover lies helpless in the corner.
Terrified that the truth about their affair will come out, Lucinda and Charles opt not to file a police report. Soon, however, LaRoche begins threatening Charles by phone, demanding first $20,000, then $100,000 in cash.
Protag’s subsequent actions serve as a textbook example of what not to do if you’re ever blackmailed by a violent psycho rapist, with the screw-loose LaRoche and his henchman Dexter (Xzibit, in an effective showboating turn) decisively maintaining the upper hand. Charles’ decision not to go to the police comes back to haunt him, while his pitiful efforts to fight back, at one point involving his ex-con co-worker Winston (RZA), lead to terrible repercussions.
Repeatedly emphasizing Charles’ inability to protect Lucinda, his family or himself, “Derailed” derives most of its juice from a sort of free-floating castration anxiety — a threat made literal in one scene when LaRoche grabs Charles by the nether-regions and throws him against the wall of his own home.
Owen has always been at his best playing smooth British badasses in films like “Croupier” and “Gosford Park,” and it’s simply no fun seeing him as a dumb schmuck. Despite a lingering hint of an English accent that lends the role a somewhat rarefied, cosmopolitan air, thesp can’t help but tamp down his own natural charisma.
After years of indifferent rom-com typecasting, Aniston, in her first thriller role since 1993’s cult classic “Leprechaun,” delivers a damsel-in-distress performance that convinces scene by scene, though her relatively brief screen time precludes the possibility of desperately needed character development. Overall chemistry between the two leads is wan at best.
For his part, Cassel has fun with an outrageously over-the-top turn, as his character’s villainous role reversals require him to switch between French and thuggish American accents with almost Meryl Streep-like aplomb. Still, he’s been more magnetic and convincingly volatile in his European body of work.
Working from James Siegel’s novel, screenwriter Stuart Beattie (“Collateral”) demonstrates an ear for literate dialogue and plays scrupulously fair with the clues — perhaps too scrupulously, as the inevitable plot twists likely will surprise no one who’s been paying attention. Everything from the story’s bookend structure (the opening and closing scenes are set in prison) to the abundant references to other crime movies — Charles finds himself in a succession of Hitchcockian wrong-man scenarios, and, in addition, at one point even sports a “Chinatown”-style nose bandage — suggests a vain attempt to bring coherence and wit to frankly implausible material.
Stylistically, Hafstrom is all over the map, veering from the scuzziest back alleys of Chicago to the cool urban menace of Charles’ workplace, yet never really developing the race and class tensions that fitfully puncture the narrative. Rap-heavy soundtrack makes for an interesting fit with Edward Shearmur’s trance-inflected score.