Derailed

November, 2005, Mystery

Directed by:Mikael Håfström

Starring:Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George, Giancarlo Esposito, David Morrissey, Tom Conti, Denis O'Hare, Georgina Chapman, and introducing, Addison Timlin, with Xzibit, and and RZA

Mysteries need to be driven either by character or plot. (having both is better of course, but that’s unfortunately rare.) Plot-driven thrillers also require brisk tempo, because storylines that lag provide the audience too much time to analyze the plots improbabilities. The James Siegel novel from which this movie was adapted had a riveting premise, revolving around a teacher doing felony probation who teaches creative writing each week at a prison. In grading an inmate's homework essay one evening, the teacher finds his own life story laid out by someone who has details only the teacher himself could know… 

That nifty premise established, Siegel's book grinds to a rather pedestrian conclusion, even though its complexities initially proved interesting. Screenwriter Stewart Beattie, (Collateral) a veteran of this sort of scripted mayhem, adds a sly twist to Siegel's opening but then condenses the rest into a tale that never manages to justify the tension the opening demands. He's not aided by the movie’s leads either; while Clive Owen, (Croupier, Closer) and Jennifer Anniston, (Along Came Polly, Bruce Almighty) both make attractive presences, there's simply no chemistry between them, a fatal flaw in a film based on illicit attraction and its accompanying guilt.

Owen posses an invaluable asset as a leading man; he can generate the impression that there's a lot going on in the brain behind his eyes and that much of it would be wicked fun to explore. Alas, the same cannot be said for Ms. Anniston, the Meg Ryan of television sitcoms. Despite her obviously charming appearance, this pleasant looking woman simply lacks the ability to play a femme fatale. Her character might be guilty of marital infidelity, but Ms. Anniston would never really hurt anybody; she ranks somewhere between Doris Day and June Allison on the wholesome spectrum.

Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom does a credible job moving the action along and the Chicago settings make a nice change of scene an urban thriller, but the secondary characters are no more believable than Anniston and when combined with holes in the plot big enough to drive a Humvee through, Derailed winds up unintentionally describing itself in its title.

The verdict? A middling murder mystery becomes a mediocre film with no compelling ingredients.

   

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