Clive Owen’s darkly handsome, adult gravitas lends itself to playing characters who think, brood, and then act. An Owen man accepts the consequences of his conflicted choices, which is why he generated all the heat in Closer; he also treats his own killer sex appeal casually, which is why he would have made such a sterling James Bond (not that there’s anything shabby about Daniel Craig, blimey). Owen gamely serves up more of the same in Derailed playing Charles Schine, a Chicago commuter who gets caught up in a whole lot of ugliness on account of a dame not his wife. But the actor’s substance is squandered in a junky thriller that mistakes brute-strength plot twist, showy violence, and the against-type participation of Jennifer Aniston (as Lucinda, the dame) for earned excitement.
Charles meets Lucinda when he misses his train and catches another, i.e., derailment No. 1. She’s attractive, seductive — she’s got the made-for-close-up facial mobility of a TV star — and he’s harried, at odds with his wife, and worried about his seriously ill daughter. One thing leads to another, which leads to a hotel-room tryst, i.e., derailment No. 2. But the liaison is interrupted when Charles is robbed and Lucinda is brutally raped by a furious sadist named LaRoche who says horrible, movie-dialogue things while slapping the famous former Friend around.
Then comes more bad stuff, as LaRoche proceeds to blackmail Charles, threaten Lucinda, and monologize in variably accented English. The odds are even that reaction to the twist, when it comes, will be huh! Or duh. Or whaaaa? The movie’s most notable dubious achievement is a sense of cultural dislocation — it’s a coarse, nasty, obvious bit of mischief set in Chicago as seen through the eyes of out-of-towners who have created a Euro ChiTown. In this stereotyped America, two out of three black characters are played by rappers for the touristic fun of casting and hanging around with rappers — and of those, one’s an office mail-room guy with a criminal record (RZA), the other’s a thug (Xzibit). (The nonrapper is Giancarlo Esposito as a cop.)
Derailed is the English-language feature debut of Swedish director Mikael Håfström (his surer 2003 movie, Evil, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film), written by Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral), and costarring French actor Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s Twelve), who hams it up as le rapist. And as Charles’ troubles mount, who’s upstanding ad executive and family man gonna call? The African-American office lackey with the rap sheet, of course, because that’s the kind of hackneyed shortcut to character that passes for a bright idea in a movie gone off the tracks like this.