If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that infidelity’s a bitch. Cheating on a spouse always brings about the worst kind of cinematic torture: As if the guilt weren’t enough, the unfaithful usually have to answer to bosses, detectives, accountants, policemen or coroners. If they were more honest, the posters for these modern-day cautionary tales would say something like, “Would you risk it all for a little piece of ass?”

In the new thriller Derailed, that piece of ass is Jennifer Aniston, and how much you enjoy the film will depend upon how much you can sympathize with a man who would give up his perfect home and bombshell wife to get his hands on Brad Pitt’s sloppy seconds. The husband in question is Charles (Clive Owen), a mild-mannered ad exec and family man who takes the train into Chicago every morning from the suburbs. He meets the leggy Lucinda (Aniston), a cool, composed financial planner who begins a tentative flirtation with him. She plays somewhat hard to get; although he’s a bit sheepish and ineffectual, his stressful home life makes him all too eager to jump into bed with her.

But before they can even do the deed, Charles and Lucinda are interrupted by brutal Parisian thug Philippe (Vincent Cassel), who takes all of Charles’ identification and assaults Lucinda. Charles wants to report the attack to the police, while Lucinda, shameful and eager to avoid being discovered, resists. As they both pledge to put the incident behind them, Charles finds that doing so will be difficult, as a certain crude, sniveling Frenchman keeps calling his cell phone and showing up on his doorstep, demanding more and more money.

The fun of Derailed comes from watching Charles dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself, involving friends, co-workers and innocent bystanders in his elaborate schemes to cover his tracks. It’s great watching Owen squirm, but director Mikael Hafstrom doesn’t implicate the audience in all the bad behavior; if he made Charles’ actions more relatable, or at least plausible, we’d be far more involved in his plight. Aniston’s sorority-girl facade is put to good use, but when the actress has to switch from bubbly to mysterious — this is a movie with about eight twist endings — she simply can’t pull it off.

The best reason to see Derailed is not for its twists or for the negligible chemistry of its leads, but for a terrific supporting turn by the Wu-Tang’s rapper-turned-actor RZA, playing Charles’ office-mailroom buddy Winston. It’s a part that could easily be a terrible racial stereotype — friendly black underling helps out selfish yuppie — but RZA turns it into something else entirely, effortlessly riffing on hockey, prison life and his “three favorite musical heroes: Eddie Money, Al Green and Johnny Cash.” His character ends up being yet another one of the movie’s twists, but for a brief while, RZA gives you hope that Derailed is going to be deeper, funnier and more realistic than it has any right to be.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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