“Derailed” is a fitting name for the new Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston thriller. It’s as utterly generic as anything plucked off the Hollywood scrapheap. It also describes both the film’s plot and its dereliction from logic and reason.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom’s English language debut takes a fine setup and tightens the screws until even those willing to swallow disbelief will scramble for their Tums.
Mr. Owen, so James Bond handsome it’s a miracle that blond bloke Daniel Craig walked away with the gig, stars as a harried family man whose life falls apart thanks to a wandering eye. Charles has a doting wife (Melissa George) and a darling daughter, but the youngster suffers from severe diabetes. Her sickness strains the family coffers and renders their home life a succession of jumpy moments waiting for her next health setback.
Enter Lucinda (Miss Aniston) as the literal woman on the train who changes Charles’ life. Lucinda is married, too, but that doesn’t prevent them from falling into easy repartee greased by mutual attraction.
The two agree to meet for drinks one night, and several shots later scramble toward the nearest seedy hotel. There, right before they can consummate their infidelity, a mugger barges into the room. The intruder (Vincent Cassel) knocks Charles out and rapes Lucinda. He also steals away with their IDs.
Days later, when both Charles and Lucinda are trying to forget the nightmare, the rapist calls Charles with a blackmail offer neither can refuse. Lucinda would surely lose her daughter in a child custody brawl if their infidelity gets out, and who knows how Charles’ precarious family would weather the revelation?
So they decide to pay up and not tell a soul.
That gives the thug ample room to roam. And he’s the kind of “only in the movies” villain who can be charming one minute, unrepentantly evil the next.
It’s only the first way “Derailed” wastes its intricate setup — and the lively sparks thrown off by the leads.
Mr. Owen’s recent career ascent is well deserved, if his work here is any barometer. He takes the glowering rage displayed in last year’s “Closer” and shrink-wraps it into a man with too many worries weighing him down. Still, the actor lacks that subtle weakness that makes him susceptible to adultery.
Miss Aniston, well, that’s a different story. Her rapport with Mr. Owen in the early going is believable enough, but when her Lucinda reveals a hidden side later in the film, Miss Aniston can’t come close to conveying it with the required gravitas.
“Derailed’s” tragic turn, alas, is constructing a flawed father figure who would do anything for his little girl, then asking audiences to buy him betraying her for the sake of plot convenience.
The film can’t possibly get back on track after that cinematic sin.