"Derailed" wants to be a cross between "Fatal Attraction" and any David Mamet film about a con. But the two types of films don't mesh. Here's why.
In most of Mamet's films, like "House of Games" or "The Spanish prisoner", as the con progresses, characters may get killed, but in the end, these deaths are faked. Joe Mantenga walks in on the group of con artists and everyone, including the people who "died", is sharing a drink. The con men don't want to kill people, they just want the mark's money. This attitude is entirely consistent with the story's breezy tones, allowing the audience to chuckle at the final reveal. "So that's how they did it!" Then the mark sets about getting his money back, getting even.
But director Mikael Hafstrom is going for something grittier in "Derailed". People get killed; people who are involved in the con and people who aren't. These deaths, and a particularly troubling act in the hotel room when Laroche enters, take the film to a darker place that it can't return from. Worse yet, none of the characters ultimately care that anyone was killed, making their deaths pointless. The violence only advances the plot in one way, to draw Charles further into the mess. Mamet's films accomplish the same thing by making the mark believe he is involved in a crime that never happened.
Once the con is revealed, it doesn't prove to be all that interesting or original. So the next thing to grasp onto, as a reason for showing any interest in this film, is the two leads. Owen is okay, but his character is ultimately very weak. Really, he should have put up more of a battle against Vincent Cassel's character. They are more or less the same size and stature. Why didn't he land a good punch? I understand that Laroche has a gun pointed at him, but he simply cowers in the corner as Laroche torments Lucinda (Aniston). And Lucinda is fairly uninteresting. She claims that she never sees her husband, yet is concerned that he will find out about the affair. So why is she so interested in going to a seedy hotel room with Charles in the first place? Jennifer Aniston really brings little to the role. Initially, she doesn't even seem to be attracted to Charles. And after Laroche begins blackmailing Charles, Lucinda fades into the background becoming a secondary character.
Cassel is over the top, showing far too much relish in the lines spouting from his mouth. It almost seems like he is exaggerating his own accent, for purely villainous reasons. Cassel is actually French, yet his performance reminds me of a bad American actor doing a bad impression of a French accent. A disappointing effort from this usually dependable person. And rapper, "Pimp My Ride" host, and burgeoning movie star (yes, I'm being sarcastic) Xzibit plays Laroche's henchman, complete with Peter Lorre stereotype, repeating things that Laroche says, simply to prove that he is a tough guy as well. "Yeah, give us the money Charles."
The story of "Derailed" is filled with the main characters, particularly Charles, making bad decisions. If at some point, he said I have to go to the police anyway, despite what Lucinda and Laroche want, the troubles would probably go away. If he had bothered to say "maybe I shouldn't ask the ex-con who works in my office to come and help me scare Laroche" things would have been different. If he had bothered to make any sane, rational decisions, the story would, in fact, not exist. So, we have a story about a man and woman, filled with them making bad decisions. How interesting! Again, being sarcastic.
In the early part of the film, much screen time is devoted to set up Charles' life at home. Yes, he has a hard life. His wife is busy and harried about all of the problems in their life. He has the sick daughter. We get it. But we also get the sense that he loves them and they return this love. Maybe not all the time. But there is reciprocation there. There are problems. But a lot of people have problems. So why does this prompt him to want an affair? By the way, they never get the chance to consummate the affair. So don't expect any shots of Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston getting hot and heavy. Just as they are about to get `busy', Laroche breaks in, putting an end to the tryst. As if that weren't enough, there are a couple of scenes with the family dog. These seem to be added for no other reason than to get certain people in the audience to ooh and aah. Oooooh, how cute. Look how cute.
The production values of this film are also strange. More than a handful of scenes are set at the seedy hotel. The hotel looks like a set because it is so seedy and so over the top. Watching the end credits, there were a number of credits duplicated, listed between the US and the UK. I suspect that the scenes in the hotel were shot in England, on a soundstage. Why this was done, I'm not sure, but it gives the film a fake look which further detracts from any efforts to make any aspect of the film appear real.
"Derailed" is a completely unsuccessful film. If you are caught in a theater and subjected to it, a number of the people in the audience may cheer at certain points. These are the same people who laugh at the cute shots of the dog, who think Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston going to a seedy hotel for an affair is romantic, and retribution is best served with a 6 inch long ivory shiv.