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Review: 'Derailed' a smooth-running thriller

Owen, Aniston make believable pair, even as film goes awry

By Paul Clinton
For CNN.com

Derailed
Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen embark on an affair in "Derailed."

FACT BOX

'Derailed'

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Clive Owen, Vincent Cassel, Giancarlo Esposito

Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Stuart Beattie

Studio: The Weinstein Co.

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Review
Clive Owen
Jennifer Aniston

(CNN) -- You know this much from thrillers: Bad things happen to good people. You can be at the right place at the wrong time. Changing a set schedule yields terrible results.

All of these time-honored plot points come into play in "Derailed," with nail-biting consequences. The climax isn't much -- even the most mundane episode of "Law & Order" would have concluded more realistically -- but, if you suspend a bit of logic and get on the ride, it's one heck of a good time, with some surprising twists and turns.

Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is a brooding husband. He's drifted apart from his wife Deanna (Melissa George), though they maintain a united front for their daughter Amy (Addison Timlin), who is suffering from kidney failure and awaiting a transplant.

One day Charlie, who works at an ad agency, misses his usual train into Chicago. On the train he meets a beautiful stranger, Lucinda Harris, played by Jennifer Aniston. She, too, is trapped in a dull marriage. Soon the two find themselves having lunch together, which escalates into dinner and finally to a seedy hotel room.

Then an armed man bursts into the room, demanding their wallets and money, and proceeds to pistol-whip Charles and rape Lucinda. After this horrendous ordeal they both decide not to go to the police in order to keep their affair a secret from their respective spouses. And, as terrible as the event was, both think it will end there.

Of course, they're wrong.

Making a case

The armed robber, Laroche (Vincent Cassel), begins to blackmail Charles. Laroche, it appears, is not a common mugger, but a sophisticated criminal. As Laroche's demands for money escalate, so do his threats to do physical harm to Charles' family. He even comes to Charles' home posing as a client.

Charles pleads with Lucinda to go to the police. She refuses. Without her testimony, Charles' lawyer tells Charles, he has no case.

Charles decides to take the situation into his own hands, and now the film really gets twisted -- and entertaining. The lightning pace is maintained with excellent skill by Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom -- making his first English-language film -- as Charles enters a world way over his head.

Look for hip-hop artists RZA and Xzibit in small but pivotal roles, and Giancarlo Esposito as the Chicago detective looking into the mounting pile of bodies resulting from Charles' vengefulness.

Owen delivers a solid performance and Aniston is excellent in a demanding role that requires her to switch gears at some pivotal moments in the plot. The sexual chemistry between the two, while not overwhelming, is believable; overall, they make a solid pair.

Cassel isn't quite as good. His teeth-gnashing exertions diminish the otherwise natural relationships established by Aniston and Owen.

Given that we're now entering Oscar season, "Derailed" -- a pure popcorn thriller -- may find it hard to make a dent at the box office. But it is worth seeing. Just stay on the ride.

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