Derailed hinges on a familiar pitch, a theme that’s endured because it works, from here back to Hitchcock back to Shakespeare and all down the years to the beginning of human storytelling: You’re doing something that you know is wrong … and you stumble into something worse. Charles Schine (Clive Owen) has a big house, a loving-but-sick daughter and a relationship that feels more like a business partnership than a marriage with his wife Deanna (Melissa George). One day on the train, Charles meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), who is funny and breezy and pretty ... and married. Charles knows he shouldn’t, but he seeks her out over the next few days, and their casual chats turn into lunches which turn into drinks and before you know it, Charles and Lucinda are in a cheap hotel room about to sleep together. Which is when the door bursts open and they’re interrupted by a ski-mask wearing tough. Threatened. Robbed. Charles is beaten; Lucinda is raped. Charles wants to call the authorities; Lucinda, fearful, is hesitant. “The police are going to want to know what we were doing here!” They go their separate ways. And Charles gets a call from their assailant, Mr. Laroche (Vincent Cassel), asking for money to go away, to not tell Charles’s wife about Lucinda. … And things get worse from there.
Based on a novel by James Siegel, Derailed marks the North American debut of director Mikael Hafstrom, working from a script by Collateral scribe Stuart Beattie. Siegel’s book was a well-received page-turner; I read it when it came out, and I suppose that it tells you a certain something about the novel that I recall its premise and pitch far better than I recall its finale and execution. Yes, the theme of Derailed is one that’s endured because it when it’s done well it’s incredibly effective, but the ugly fact is that Derailed isn’t done well, with mis-casting, awkward direction and a slightly clumsy adaptation all disturbing the forward motion of Derailed’s plot. Derailed is never an actual train wreck, but there are much better story vehicles to take if you’re looking to disembark from the theater with goose bumps and a sense of satisfaction.