A deadly virus. Only one way to stop it!
The Cassandra Crossing as superspy schlock. O.J. not included.
According to an urban legend, a father once asked his adolescent son why teenaged boys hero-worshipped Jean-Claude van Damme. The son's response: "Because his last name's a cuss word." If ever a film would cause an audience to spew a few "cuss words" at the screen, Derailed just might be it.
Facts of the Case
Secret agent Jacques Kristoff (Jean-Claude van Damme, The Order, Double Team) is summoned into action—on his birthday, no less—to track down cat burglar Galina Konstantin (Laura Elena Harring, Mulholland Drive), a fetching acrobat who has scampered off with an extremely valuable and dangerous top-secret cargo. Finding Galina takes all of three minutes, after which Jacques must wrap up the mission by returning Galina and the contraband to his superiors by train. (And who are these mysterious people Jacques works for, anyway? NATO? The United Nations? Interpol? U.N.C.L.E.?)
Jacques's physician wife Madeline (Susan Gibney, Dr. Leah Brahms from Star Trek: The Next Generation and the forthcoming Trek film Nemesis) isn't happy about this turn of events, no doubt having invested a small fortune in a Berlitz correspondence course and a year of acting lessons for hubby's B-day. But, being the ever-dutiful spouse, she sees him off at the train station with the couple's teenaged daughter (Jessica Bowman, Joy Ride) and son (van Damme's real-life offspring Kristopher, here billed under the surname "van Varenburg" in a dim attempt to disguise this blatant example of rampant nepotism).
Unfortunately, Jacques just happens to have chosen the most star-crossed rail passage since Runaway Train. It seems Galina's ill-gotten gain is three vials of SP-43, an ultra-virulent strain of smallpox (genus cinematicus ridiculosus, unless I miss my guess), cultured in fluorescent green serum so we get the hint that it's nasty stuff. It also seems that a gaggle of evildoers, led by master criminal Mason Cole (Tomas Arana, Pearl Harbor, Gladiator), intend to hijack the train and purloin the virus for their own nefarious ends. But standing in their way…it's Wham! Bam! Van Damme!
Of course, the killer virus gets loose in the train's ventilation system. Of course, Jacques's family picked this special moment to surprise dad for his birthday by tagging along for the ride. And of course, van Damme gets ample opportunities to flex his famous Muscles from Brussels, display his monolithic range of emotion, and mangle the language of Shakespeare.
Rarely does a critic have the chance to witness such an abuse of cinematic resources as Derailed represents. The shortcomings of this exercise in ineptitude are so plentiful it's difficult to know which scab to pick first. But since I'm a writer by trade, I'll begin with the script.
When the villain snarls, "Please don't insult my intelligence," you're not sure whether he's talking to another character, or the screenwriters. Here are but a few delectable morsels of dialogue served up by the duo of Adam Gierasch and Jace ("Help! Space Ghost!") Anderson, whose previous contributions to the screenplay art form included the Tobe Hooper stinkbomb Crocodile:
• "I wouldn't trust you if your tongue came
And my personal favorite:
• "When I found you, you were nothing but a cheap circus tart hustling the locals. I made you what you are!"
A tip for the actors who got hornswoggled into this disaster: when you're making a film this bad, try to resist uttering a line that begins, "I know it sounds cheesy, but…" Every sentence of dialogue in this script sounds cheesier than Hickory Farms at Christmastime. And the plot? Major cheese. Emmenthaler. With holes big enough to pass a locomotive through. (For example, when characters leap/are hurled from the train at various points in the journey, no one seems terribly concerned that they're going to infect the entirety of Central Europe with smallpox.)
Give director Bob Misiorowski (wasn't that the Russian title of that movie where Kathy Bates whacks James Caan's ankles with a sledgehammer?) a thick block of cheese and he'll make a sandwich every time. Misiorowski manages to bleed all his action scenes—and this is supposed to be an action movie, so that's the one part you really don't want to mess up—of what feeble life they possess by composing his shots so haphazardly it's impossible to tell what we're watching much of the time. Compounding this, the editors have patchworked the images together as though they'd be uninvited from the wrap party if more than six consecutive frames from the same shot passed by, uninterrupted by scissors.
Sure signs that a director has drained the idea pool: excessive slow-motion effects, jump dissolves, and strobe lighting. When the director's really grasping at straws—as Misiorowski is here—he'll cram all three into the same scene. It's not pretty. Misiorowski also employs the slo-mo at the most inappropriate moments. Do we really need for time to screech to a crawl while a security guard examines a passport? And why all the slowed-down closeups of van Damme's stolid visage—what, he isn't immobile enough already? Then, just when you thought the litany of bad moviemaking techniques has reached its nadir: behold the split screen. Jinkies, as Velma would say.
Derailed features some of the tackiest, most amateurish visual effects this Judge has seen since those long-ago Saturday afternoons with Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. The green-screen work makes the actors look like Toody and Muldoon riding around in front of a scrolling background in Car 54, Where Are You? The long exterior shots of the train are so obviously miniatures one can practically read the name "Lionel" stenciled on the sides of the cars. During the climactic demolition sequence, I kept expecting Gamera to fly overhead. (Actually, there's nothing wrong with this movie that a few giant monsters couldn't fix.) And a laughably ill-staged pseudo-stunt with van Damme on a motorbike atop the train will make soda come out your nose if you're not careful.
The acting here is as flat and lightweight as a Belgian waffle. Van Damme delivers his familiar one-note performance. Laura Harring looks uncomfortable. Susan Gibney looks like she wishes she'd married Geordi LaForge. Tomas Arana looks for the exit. The supporting players look for the classifieds.
Artisan does its customary professional job bringing Derailed to DVD, not that bringing it to DVD was at all necessary. The disc includes both anamorphic and full frame versions of the movie. Neither is anything to boast about, but then, this is a shabbily made, hamster-budgeted, direct-to-late-night-cable action offering. The sound quality—Dolby Digital 5.1, not that there's much done with the surrounds—mirrors the fair-to-middling nature of the visuals.
Those who enjoy the simpler pleasures of life—such as root canal, flesh-eating staph infections, and the heartbreak of psoriasis—are welcome to savor one of the cheapest-looking production featurettes in DVD history. Did the studio honestly suppose that anyone, having endured 89 minutes of torture, would be eager to relive the horror by seeing how it was perpetrated? Give Artisan credit, I suppose, for trying to add value where none exists. Harring and van Damme (who's obviously on the set of his next opus, given his odd makeup) blather, she somewhat more comprehensibly. Misiorowski waxes so enthusiastic about the cruddy special effects that one gets the feeling he doesn't realize how wretched this film is. There are none so blind as they who refuse to see.
Oh yeah—the trailer stinks, too.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Just wondering: did Laura Harring win that role in Mulholland Drive in a poker game? And to think she showed all that promise in Lambada: The Forbidden Dance.
What did we ever do to Belgium to deserve Jean-Claude van Damme? Weren't those sprout things punishment enough? Isn't there some Geneva Convention stipulation to prevent the export of noxious waste?
Speaking of noxious waste, that's exactly what Derailed constitutes: a waste of celluloid, a waste of Laura Harring—whose career seems headed down that Kristy Swanson/Shannon Tweed/Linnea Quigley vortex into Z-movie oblivion—and worst of all, a waste of an hour and a half of your precious existence and space on your DVD rack.
Avoid this fetid swamp of a movie at all costs. Smallpox would be preferable. There's a cure for that, at least.
The Court finds Jean-Claude van Damme guilty of murder of the acting profession, and sentences him to a one-way ride on the Siberian Express handcuffed to his former co-star Dennis Rodman, whose absence from this atrocity may be its only redeeming quality.
Director Bob Misiorowski is found guilty of hubris in the first degree for daring to emblazon the words "A Film by Bob Misiorowski" across the cover of this DVD. He and his no-talent co-conspirators are sentenced to a summer behind the counter at the local Blockbuster, explaining to angry trailer park denizens the purpose of those black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
Thankfully, we're adjourned. Forget the train—I'm walking home.
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Scales of Justice
• Production Featurette: Derailed: A Look Behind the Scenes
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