When the Weinstein brothers were ousted from Miramax by Disney, it came as a surprise. After all, the Weinsteins founded Miramax and personally made it into one of the bigger "small" studios around. The Weinsteins had ties to Quentin Tarantino and other filmmakers who would support them over Disney any day. But no matter how it happened, it happened, and the Weinsteins found themselves forming a new company, the imaginatively named Weinstein Company, and their first film was Derailed, starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. The ads looked looked interesting; the trailers promised us an erotic thriller with some shocking twists.
The final product, as happens too often in Hollywood, falls far short of the excitement promised in the ads. Derailed is the story of Charles Schine (Clive Owen), a family man with a wife and child. His daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin) suffers from Type 1 diabetes, and needs a new liver, which Charles and his wife are saving up for. One day, Charles misses his usual train to work, and takes a later one. On this train, he meets Lucinda Williams (Jennifer Aniston), an attractive financial advisor at a big firm. The two hit it off, and before he knows it, Charles is asking her out to dinner, and then to a hotel. The two begin to get down to business when they're interrupted by a mugger, LaRoche (Vincent Cassel). LaRoche doesn't just take their money, he rapes Lucinda in front of Charles. The ordeal, while harrowing, seems like a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time until LaRoche calls Charles and asks for $20,000. When Charles complies, LaRoche asks for $100,000 and begins showing up at Charles' home, pretending to be a business associate. Charles can't go to the police because Lucinda won't testify, afraid that if her husband finds out about the affair, he will take her daughter. And then comes the plot twists.
Derailed is a tired movie. Everything about it seems lifeless. Clive Owen, normally a fine actor, plays Charles as if he were the most bored man on the face of the planet. It's a performance without any kind of emotional investment, and it sinks the movie from almost the first scene. Jennifer Aniston doesn't do too badly as one of the few Friends cast members to try a serious role, but she's not in the movie enough to save it from Owen's dour demeanor. The real stars of the movie are its supporting actors, specifically Vincent Cassel and RZA. Audiences might recognize Cassel from Les Pactes des Lupes, aka The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and he gives the standout performance in this piece. He is by turns frightening, charming, funny, and deadly, and plays each with equal aplomb. RZA plays an ex-con who Charles befriends at work, and while his part is small, it's also important, and he does what he can with it.
The film also features rapper Xzibit, who has almost nothing to do as LaRoche's lackey. Speaking of nothing to do, let's talk about Charlie's family, who appear in so little of the film that you often forget they even exist. Considering how much of the movie hinges upon Charles needing money for his daughter's diabetes, we barely ever see his wife and child. In fact, all the deleted scenes aside from one feature his family, so they were meant to have a bigger role, but just got cut out. This is a shame, because they are the reason we're meant to be sympathetic to Charles' plight in the first place.
Then again, even if we were interested in Charles succeeding, it wouldn't even matter because the plot is so by-the-numbers that five minutes after Jennifer Aniston first appeared on the screen, I knew how the rest of the movie was going to go. Even worse, the scenes where Owen and Aniston court each other suggest that maybe the movie is going to go in a different direction, which makes it all the more disappointing when events go exactly as I thought they would.
The back of the HD DVD case claims that this film has "more surprises than [the characters] saw coming," but if the characters are surprised, I sure wasn't, and I got nothing out of this humdrum film.
The HD DVD:
Derailed was the Weinstein Company's first production, and so it is fitting that it is also their first HD DVD. Eschewing what has essentially become the format standard of using Microsoft's VC-1 codec, the Weinsteins chose MPEG-4 (aka AVC). And while I know that AVC is capable of some fantastic results (see Universal's HD DVD of The Interpreter for an example), Derailed doesn't come near the highs that The Interpreter does. A lot of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc reviews talk about HD "pop," that indefinable something that makes the image seem like it's jumping off the screen. To me, the "pop" is a combination of detail, resolution, and color. And I don't know what it is, but Derailed is missing it. It lacks the pop, and like the movie, the transfer is fairly unremarkable. Actually, it's worse than unremarkable. It's downright disappointing. Detail and depth are low, and the colors also seem toned down. Looking at the theatrical trailer, the colors on the screen are more vivid and lifelike than in the actual movie. You can see blush on Jennifer Aniston's cheeks in the trailer, not so in the film. I don't know if it was a stylistic choice to desaturate the image, but either way the transfer looks very dull.
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track, on the other hand, is nicely mixed with some real power. When it rains, it pours, when a train goes by, you can almost feel the whoosh of air as it goes past. Dialogue is clear and never lost, and the surrounds are well balanced, with good dynamic range.
The HD DVD is light on extras, and what we do get is more fluff than substance.
The deleted scenes comprise the bulk of the supplements, and even they don't amount to much. As I mentioned, the majority of them concern Charles' wife and daughter, and they are so slow and dull that they would have sucked all the momentum out of the picture, hence their exclusion. And the last one happens to be a terrible denoument that they thankfully kept out.
"The Making of Derailed" is a seven and a half minute fluff piece which has everyone praising each other to high heaven. It's only notable for a humorous moment when Clive Owen says that he didn't want his character to become one-note (funny because that's exactly how the character comes off in the film), and a bit where Cassel talks about how people in France were more excited to hear about Xzibit and RZA than Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston.
Finally, there's the theatrical trailer which has better color than the feature.
The Weinstein brothers have been responsible for some truly awful films, as well as some modern classics. Derailed feels like it's trying to be the latter but veers dangerously close to the former, although in the end it really ends up being neither. It is, however, excruciatingly boring and not even worth a viewing. If you don't believe me, then perhaps the HD DVD's subpar image transfer and lack of interesting extras will help keep you away. Skip It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.