ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras D+
starring Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George
screenplay by Stuart Beattie
directed by Mikael Håfström
by Walter Chaw Okay, here's the deal: if I tell you that Derailed has a big plot twist, you're going to figure it out from the trailers; and if I don't, you're going to figure it out at around the ten-minute mark--it's just that stupid. So I'm simply going to say that Jennifer Aniston is like an old studio starlet trying on her ill-fitting acting shoes in a thriller that wants to turn her into a bad girl done wrong but quails at every moment of truth. The ultimate effect of her "metamorphosis" from America's sweetheart is the uncomfortable feeling that you just saw Donna Reed (or your best friend's mom) in an S&M outfit. It makes the already-spoiled rape scene (unless ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is an underground publication nowadays) a non-event because as you're watching it, tickling at the back of your head is the knowledge that they'd never rape Rachel in a mainstream middlebrow thriller (even if professional creep Vincent Cassel is the rapist). More, because the whole thing unfolds from the point of view of a very groggy paramour Charles (Clive Owen), the rape becomes something that's only very inconvenient for our married white male adulterer. It's despicable is what it is--compounded by a lie later on and ultimately invalidated by our tired twist, which finds at the end our Charles the spitting image of Travis Bickle but without any trace of irony.
The adultery is bad, and the extortion that follows is only to be expected (squint a little and Adrian Lyne could have been directing this milk-fed, soft-porn crapulence in the '80s), but the moment that Charles consults black mail-boy Winston (The RZA) for advice on what to do with criminals is the moment Derailed identifies itself as the worst kind of classist, racist, misogynistic bullshit. Amoral at best, it has Charles giving away all the money he and his cuckolded wife Deanna (Melissa George) have been saving for his gravely ill child's (Addison Timlin) miracle cure so that he can protect the honour of his partner in slime. That's one thing, sure, something that perhaps has a home in a different pulp exploitation picture--but then Charles tells his wife everything, goes on a bloody vigilante rampage that claims three lives, carefully plans the knifing execution of a fourth, and returns home to Deanna's loving embrace. See, this guy who's just mortgaged his daughter's life--without taking into consideration the embezzlement, the adultery, the seeming preference of the welfare of his lover over his family--is rewarded at the end with a clinch from his beautiful blonde wife as their child (well now, we surmise) is driven off in a yellow school bus down an upper-class suburban lane.
Derailed is the quintessential white-man's fantasy: lower class black men working for you to kill French people (and their working-class black men) while you get away with, literally, murder. That girl with the hair from "Friends" is hot for you and because she's naughty, you get to smack her around a little bit--and because this fantasy wants it both ways, before she eats a bullet, she confesses "real" feelings for Charles and, particularly, his ailing daughter. It's acceptable and comfortable, this ugly little artifact, and it reveals its message to be in line with the Saw saga's curiously compromised carpe diem: "Some people just don't know how to appreciate what they've got." Owen is good even straitjacketed into a flat American accent, Cassel is deep in the red of his psycho turn, and Aniston is so in over her head that she never for a minute exudes the kind of sexuality (or believability) that would make a fatale of her femme. She has all the right parts, yet you can't help but want to call her "Mrs. Aniston." While dozens of inept thrillers are churned out every year, only a few are ever this simpering. It's too cowardly to actually be controversial--all it's got is about two hours of the same tired old shorthand hate, enabling the polite crowd assembled before it to rest assured that after sitting through this sordid tale, they didn't really see anything untoward at all. Originally published: November 11, 2005.
by Bill Chambers Genius Products presents The Weinstein Company's first theatrical (and now home video) release Derailed on DVD in competing R-rated fullscreen and unrated widescreen and fullscreen editions. For review we received the widescreen "Unrated Version," which runs five minutes longer than the theatrical cut, though the disc provides no indication of what's been restored to the film. All I can say is if you're renting this hoping to see Jennifer Aniston in the buff (or Melissa George, for that matter), you're barking up the wrong erotic thriller. The 2.38:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer compensates for flat colours with crisp blacks and an admirable level of fine detail, although the source print looks ineffably grubby. Similarly, the accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is clear but undistinguished. Extras include three short deleted scenes and "The Making of Derailed" (8 mins.); in the only noteworthy elision, Deanna confesses to cheating on Charles, something that might've helped make her less of a cipher--and Charles less of an asshole--in context. Meanwhile, the aforementioned featurette is your typical EPK fluff in which the actors participate in a circle-jerk, but Vincent Cassel does let slip that RZA and Xzibit are a bigger deal in his native France than either Clive Owen or Jennifer Aniston. Derailed's trailer rounds out the special features, while previews for Scary Movie 4, Transamerica, and The Matador cue up on startup. Originally published: April 7, 2006.