It's become a given by now that Clive Owen enlivens virtually every movie he appears in, even a bland thriller like Derailed, the first release from the newly formed Weinstein Company, run by former Miramax head honchos Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Owen plays Charlie Schine, a Chicago ad-man who lives in a big house in the suburbs with his lovely wife Deanna (Melissa George) and their bright daughter Amy (Addison Timlin). But his life isn't as perfect as it seems on the surface. Amy suffers from Type 1 diabetes and he and Deanna have to work virtually nonstop to pay the medical bills. This has understandably put a strain on their marriage, to the point where Charlie is ready to leap into bed with the first attractive woman who makes eyes at him.
That woman is Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), another married suburbanite he meets on the morning commuter train. The two get to talking and talking leads to lunch and lunch leads to drinks and drinks lead to a room in a seedy downtown motel. Before they can do the deed, they are interrupted by a gun-toting criminal named Laroche (Vincent Cassel), who beats Charlie to a pulp and rapes Lucinda. When Charlie regains consciousness, he insists they go to the police, but Lucinda refuses, afraid of what her husband might do if he finds out about her almost-affair. Charlie reluctantly agrees to keep quiet, although his promise is quickly put to the test when Laroche turns up again, demanding $20,000 in cash. From here, the plot thickens as Laroche continues to milk his mark for money and Charlie searches for a way-any way-to get rid of this violent crook while he still has some semblance of a normal life left.
If you read or watch a lot of thrillers, than it's unlikely that anything that happens in Derailed will surprise you. Even casual fans of the genre should be able to spot the various twists and turns coming a mile away, which means it's up to the cast and the director to keep us involved in the film despite the predictable storyline. That's when the presence of a magnetic actor like Owen becomes invaluable. This isn't a flashy performance designed to win awards and applause; in fact, Charlie may be the most "normal" character Owen has ever played. He brings the right mixture of intensity and helplessness to the role, getting the audience rooting for Charlie and caring about his welfare. Owen has a good sparring partner in Cassel, who sneers and curses with great relish. Aniston, on the other hand, is miscast as the dark-haired temptress who may not be entirely on the level. She and Owen strike a few sparks, but the role cries out for an actress with more mystery and verve behind her eyes (someone like Connie Nielsen or Laura Elena Harring).
As for the direction, Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström does a serviceable job behind the camera, but the Weinsteins haven't stumbled upon a real find here. His one noticeable artistic flourish is to ground the early scenes of the film in a kind of dismal realism. The Schines live in a modest house and are locked into their individual routines. Even Charlie's flirtation with Lucinda isn't so much sexy as it is vaguely pathetic. Once Laroche enters the story, though, the movie snaps into traditional thriller mode. Ultimately, Derailed is one of those forgettable efforts that's neither bad enough to completely dismiss nor good enough to wholly recommend.