Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.


If there were ever a "scared straight" program for potential philanderers, all they'd have to do is watch American movies. Just as surely as the most heinous of premeditated offenses, infidelity is a crime punishable by death—or, if not death, than grievous bodily harm or the threat of mortal danger to spouses and families. Thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful, or the generic new thriller Derailed don't really need to be thrillers at all, because the affairs at the center of them are rooted in the ordinary. Marriages gone stale, stifling home lives, the temptation of someone invigorating and new, and the complications that inevitably follow are all the stuff of compelling drama, and would be even if boiled rabbits and Smith & Wessons never entered the picture. The problem with all of these movies is that they're better off before someone goes psychotic: In a way, the real consequences posed by infidelity are more harrowing to face than anything these thrillers can dish out.


Slick and efficient to the last, Derailed doesn't waste time establishing the miseries of a man (Clive Owen) who has everything—a high-paying job as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife (Melissa George) and home in suburban Chicago, and a sweet daughter who's beating back severe diabetes. On a commuter train to the city, Owen's eyes wander to Jennifer Aniston, a financial adviser who's in a similar boat, mired in a lifeless marriage with a wealthy husband and a daughter of her own. After a few tentative encounters, the two decide to consummate their affair in a fleabag hotel, where lowlife Vincent Cassel accosts them at gunpoint, beating Owen unconscious and raping Aniston. Aniston insists on not involving the police, because the affair could result in an unfavorable settlement with her husband, but it turns out that Cassel is only getting started. With Owen's personal information and knowledge of the tryst on hand, Cassel works on extorting him for all he's worth.

From the moment Cassel enters the picture with his stock, tongue-twirling Eurotrash-villain routine, Derailed becomes another, lesser movie, casting aside the refreshing ordinariness of the affair for taunting phone calls, back-alley confrontations, and children in peril. Much of the second half is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop, though you don't have to have 20/20 vision in order to see the big twist coming from miles away. Once it arrives, the film officially disembarks from reality with an over-the-top climax and denouement that play shamelessly to the bloodthirsty masses. On Planet Hollywood, sleeping around is grisly business.

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