Whenever I hear that Hollywood is hopelessly liberal, I cite reactionary claptrap like Derailed as striking evidence to the contrary. Perhaps the elites of the cinematic community despise President Bush or march for gay rights now and again, but at their core, they are as moralistic as the conservatism they are assumed to oppose. In the way that Fatal Attraction simultaneously crucified tough, sexually adventurous women and shamed adulterous men back to their prim wives as a reinforcement of the Reagan legacy, Derailed is a cautionary tale for our Christ-centered times. Extramarital affairs, above all, are the greatest offense against the Almighty, and anything one does outside the sanctity of marriage will lead to chaos, betrayal, and eventually, bloodshed. Not only will you get caught, but you will be forced to part with great sums of money, which will lead to your unemployment, arrest, and eventual stint in prison. For as tempting as it is to seek fulfillment away from a sick child and demanding wife, these things pull you back, for outside the home, life is dangerous and above all, sinful. In the end, the cheating husband is run through the grinder, but what he does and how he does it become less about revenge than a way to save his daughter from certain death (and embrace his newly wonderful spouse, heretofore taken for granted). It’s a film even James Dobson could enjoy, that is once Clean Flicks excises the rape scene, the half dozen or so graphic murders, and at least 100 well-placed profanities.
Political platitudes aside, Derailed is the sort of film that will surprise only those who haven’t seen a movie since the late 1970s. As if by fiat, it contains a twist, so when Charles (Clive Owen) meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston, acting like an extra from Land of the Dead) on the morning train, we know this won’t be a simple affair. And when Lucinda, sitting at the opposite end of the car, offers to pay for his ticket, we instantly recognize where this is going. Why would she agree to this unless she had an angle? Fine, it does set the plot in motion, but in this age of irony, nothing is done for its stated purpose, and suspicion is the order of the day. You would think that even his character would be wary, as surely even the fictional “live” in a universe defined by pop culture. But as movie characters never seem to watch television or visit the movie theater, perhaps Charles did in fact remain ignorant of the fact that whenever you meet a woman like this during the morning commute, she will try to ruin your life within a few weeks. Sorry, Charles, dames like this don’t just fall into your lap. Having established that Lucinda has other designs besides mere intercourse, we wait for the other shoe to drop. Is she a government agent? Will there be surveillance? Does the conspiracy reach into the highest levels of power? Nothing so romantic, I’m afraid. Instead, Lucinda is working in tandem with boyfriend Philippe Laroche, the figure of evil not only because he’s French, but also due to his well-built Negro sidekick. They’re after nothing more than hard currency.
You see, Lucinda lures unsuspecting married men to their doom by setting up a dalliance in a slummy hotel, waiting until intercourse is about to begin, then hanging back while Laroche bursts in, pretending that he’s a thug bent on robbery. He beats the shit out of the man, “rapes” Lucinda, then proceeds to call the hapless chump, demanding more money lest he hurt his family. The man pays up, only to find that even more money is sought, which means that Lucinda must up the stakes by claiming to have had an abortion due to the rape, which manipulates the guilty man into not reporting the whole thing to police. Lucinda’s tale is bolstered by a phony picture of her daughter and an office job that speaks to a high level of importance, but is in fact a cover (she is a mere temp). Throughout, we get the standard scenes — Larouche shows up at Charles’ house pretending to be a co-worker (just to let him know he is capable of anything); Charles drafts an office friend to scare Larouche, only to watch him killed during the attempt; an investigator shows up concerning the friend’s death, only to be revealed as a close relative of the young man; and yes, Charles’ daughter has an “episode” that shows how dire her situation really is. It is at this point that you realize the essential flaw of this type of movie. Because we know the rug is going to be pulled sooner or later, every character becomes suspect, which means we are less involved in a film than playing detective. It’s little more than a game, with the audience as captive fools. Using assorted laws of character and the expectations of the modern screenplay, we look twice at the cop. At least three times at the work friend. And that lawyer? Maybe he’s part of this thing as well. Some are more reasonable than others, but everything becomes a scavenger hunt, all with the erroneous belief that the story is as clever as the writer wants it to be.
Charles eventually gets wise to the con, however (as expected, he “sees things” while lurking along the street, which is the only way movie characters discover anything, unless of course they’re in some lonely library examining microfilm). Plotting revenge, he makes certain to be in that same hotel room when another man is led to his doom. What ensues is a particularly enjoyable massacre, as the mark, Larouche, Lucinda, and Larouche’s black assistant are all shot full of holes. Lucinda only receives a single bullet, but it’s the kind that slowly takes its victim as she gazes upward into Charles’ eyes, as if filled with regret. And remember, we see a bullet enter Larouche’s head, but it should surprise no one that he doesn’t really die. For if he had, we would not have been privileged to see the truly ridiculous conclusion, as Charles knifes Larouche in the gut while the pair grapple in a prison laundry room. How did they get there? Presumably, Larouche was arrested for the hotel killings, while Charles was doing community service as a prison teacher for embezzling $10,000 from his company, which he used to pay the first installment of Larouche’s extortion demand. Charles finds Frenchie in that location because, as he’s about to grade papers, he finds a blue book containing a synopsis of the entire film up to this point, punctuated by the demand to meet him immediately. And when we see Larouche’s face, it is apparent that the bullet merely entered his eye, which wasn’t enough to kill him. Needless to say, Charles gets away with the murder because the same cop from earlier is pleased that his nephew’s killer has been put down. So the pro-vigilante message dovetails nicely with the heaven-sent warning against adultery, topped off by an abundance of stupidity, illogic, and groan-inducing ineptitude. Who said right-wingers weren’t being represented at the movies?