There is absolutely no other subgenre — in either filmmaking or fiction — that I am more intrigued by than the adultery narrative. Whether it’s Andre Dubus, early John Irving, the Graham Greene and James Cain oeuvres, or even the overwrought, heavy-handedness of Adrian Lyne, I find nothing more psychologically compelling than a cheating husband trying to absolve himself or the empty recompense of a disloyal wife. Where action films and slasher flicks go for cheap thrills or the meaningless scare, a good adultery film hits you where it hurts the most: Lust, guilt, self-bargaining, the never-ending deceptions, and a bottomless downward spiral from which neither husband nor wife can fully recover. As in life, the proper adultery movie never ends happily; the wounds are too deep, the lies are stacked too high, and the bitterness lingers too long. If you’re lucky, you get ambiguity; but the truly successful infidelity flick ends in despair, in somber viola music, in the self-embrace, the heavy heart, the silent theater, the distrustful eye, and the ultimate negative reinforcement.
Unfortunately, the latest entry into this subgenre, Derailed, accomplishes only two of these benchmarks: It ends with the somber viola (actually, piano) and it nails the despair, though only of the unintentional sort, provoked not by the film’s circumstances, but by one’s own sense of lethargy. Indeed, Derailed is a mishmash of confused efforts: Part failed James Cain, part David Fincher thriller sans the thrill, and the heavy-handed, overwrought part of the works of Adrian Lyne, minus any of that unnecessary character development that might actually provide some form of narrative intrigue.
Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is an adman, see? He’s married, has a diabetic daughter, and apparently, an unfulfilled itch for a hummer. Enter Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a married financial advisor, who runs into Schine on the commuter train one morning, and, after a few long lunches and a round of shots, offers him that hummer his wife is too busy nursing his daughter to provide. Well, if there is anything that Hollywood morality has taught us over the years, it’s that no good extramarital knob gobbling goes unpunished. And wouldn’t you know it, even before Schine can get his rocks off, a dirty Frenchman (Vincent Cassel) barges into their hotel room, beats him up, and has his way with Lucinda.
Not content to steal Schine’s wallet and sully his mistress, the dirty Frenchman doesn’t stop with a simple ass-kicking; no sir, he uses that whole infidelity problem as leverage, blackmailing him out of the $100,000 he’s saving up to get his daughter a shiny, new kidney. And so begins the illogical plot twists and turns of Derailed, all of which are telegraphed so far in advance that your average My Pet Goat-reading President could figure it out within the first 15 minutes of the film.
Predictable climaxes and ludicrous plot holes aside, Derailed suffers from something much more fundamental; it fatally turns its philanderer into hero, hell-bent on exacting his revenge fantasies, decimating the one convention central to the success of the adultery subgenre: The womanizer cannot be allowed to overcome his own hubris, he must suffer the consequences, lest we have America under the misconception that a well-placed shiv can save your marriage. It cannot, no matter what the Weinsteins might have you believe.
Credit Clive Owen, though, for hustling his acting talents harder than the Food Court lady pushing her Bourbon Chicken samples. Unfortunately, like that Bourbon Chicken meal, Derailed is unpalatable after that first bite, and if you decide you want to plunk down $10 for it, you probably deserve the inevitable tummy ache that comes after.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.Derailed / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()