Mikael Hafstrom is Swedish, but it’s Alfred Hitchcock, not Ingmar Bergman, that he’d like you to think of while watching “Derailed.” It’s the director’s first English-language film, and it’s a ridiculous little thriller, the sort of movie that is worth seeing but not worth discussing afterward.
Recalling some of Hitch’s falsely-accused-innocent-man capers, “Derailed” begins, appropriately enough, with two strangers on a train — the commuter train into Chicago, specifically. Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is in advertising and he has forgotten to buy a ticket before boarding; his benefactor when the fare inspector comes along is Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a big-shot investment banker. Being a gentleman, he thanks her for paying his fare and promises to repay her the next day. They chat. She has a husband she never sees. He has a wife (Melissa George) whom he sees but who thinks he works too much and who needs help caring for their daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin), who suffers from Type 1 diabetes.
It seems that an affair is brewing, and sure enough, one rainy night Charles and Lucinda check into a seedy hotel. They are punished for their attempted misdeeds, however, when a thug named Laroche (Vincent Cassel) bursts into the room, beats Charles, and rapes Lucinda. He takes their money and subsequently blackmails them for more. They can’t tell anyone what happened, of course, because anyone they tell will want to know why they were in that hotel room to begin with. This Laroche character has happened upon two perfect marks: both well-to-do and terrified of going to the police.
But Charles can’t give all his savings to Laroche, as young Amy needs it for her diabetes treatment and medication. Thus Charles becomes a desperate man, an ordinary fellow trying to outsmart a career criminal, all while keeping his family safe and his secrets hidden.
I mentioned that the director is no Hitchcock, and it’s certainly true that the screenplay (by “Collateral’s” Stuart Beattie, adapted from James Siegel’s novel) is no great shakes either. Clive Owen, though — there’s a guy who could have starred in a Hitchcock thriller. He has a hard, handsome face, a cool exterior and a wrathful streak that emerges when he’s ruffled. He is inherently a Good Guy, but he’s capable of making mistakes. He has a dark side.
We know less about Lucinda, but early on she banters with Charles like she just walked out of a Hepburn-Tracy comedy. It’s a shame her savvy, playful side is soon swallowed up in the drama of the nightmare that has befallen her and Charles.
So what’s wrong with the movie, then? Only that it is unoriginal and its “surprises” do not deserve to be called such. (In an Entertainment Weekly interview with Aniston and Owen, the reporter fawns over the movie and mentions how he didn’t see the end coming. If that is true, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell him.) The story’s central problem is admirably devious, but the characters’ solution to it is pedestrian, exactly the sort of plan that movie characters always come up with when faced with fiendish schemes — i.e., they do something just as fiendish. Yawn. How about a thriller where the good guys win by doing something nice?
B- (1 hr., 47 min.; )