Posted: Nov 17, 2005 12:01 AM

The person responsible for marketing Derailed needs to be fired.

The film already had a small built-in audience thanks to the Jennifer Aniston curiosity factor. Tabloid devotees were sure to show up to see if Jen-the-actress could weather the storms of Jen-the-scorned-woman. Plus, the script features a tight little film-noir plot that, if not Academy worthy, is still a fair bit of fun. So it’s likely that word around the water cooler would have been good.

But apparently someone at Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s production company decided these draws were not enough and that the best way to market the siblings’ first film since splitting from Disney would be to spoil its biggest plot twist!

That’s right, for some inexplicable reason, the same trailer that touts Derailed’s surprise ending also reveals it. I’m no ad exec, but that sure doesn’t seem like the best way to sell your product. And considering how gripping a tale it is, I have to assume that some of the movie’s poor reviews are a direct result of its plot giveaway.

In case some readers haven’t seen the spots, I won’t let the cat out of the bag myself. But I will say that even with the spoiler, Derailed features enough sharp curves to keep the audience guessing. You may figure out the big twist, but there are several other minor ones I guarantee you won’t see coming that are just as satisfying.

Clive Owen (Closer) plays Charles Schine, a teacher at heart who works as an advertising executive because it brings in a large enough salary to pay for his daughter’s medical care (She’s a type-1 diabetic who requires daily dialysis and close supervision of her diet and glucose levels.). The distraction of dual careers and diabetes has, over the years, pushed Charles and his wife into that cold place where they’re too busy to be considerate of one another, let alone be romantic. Charles and his wife exist in panic mode and every ounce of their concern and affection is reserved for their ailing child.

So when a sympathetic, sexy career woman chats Charles up on his commuter train, his love-starved soul (not to mention his hormones) is in no position to resist her. Still, Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston) is more than just a hot body. She’s a parent and an overworked New York exec herself, so she understands how quickly life’s demands can force a couple apart. In fact, she only sees her husband on weekends.

Connecting through their loneliness and self-pity, Charles and Lucinda embark on an illicit affair. But as we all learned from Fatal Attraction, a moment of extra-marital comfort can come at a very high price. And almost as soon as they fall into each others arms, the cheating pair is forced to start paying their tab.

Owen and Aniston both turn in fine performances as Charles and Lucinda. We identify with their weariness and can’t help but like them even though we don’t like what they’re doing. But the real payoff for the price of admission is veteran French actor Vincent Cassel. As Derailed’s sadistic Euro-trash bad guy he is at once repellent and beguiling, believable both as an oily thug and a refined businessman.

Though Derailed starts out slow (you may even think you’ve stumbled into another post-modern, anti-marriage downer like Closer), Cassel’s arrival picks up the pace, and the film becomes the kind of tense mystery Barbara Stanwyck might have starred in during the 1940s (minus the sex scenes of course).

So if you’re growing a bit weary of the season’s oh-so earnest Oscar contenders wearing their serious artistry on their sleeves, this slick little thriller that has no aim other than to entertain may be just what the doctor ordered.

Just make sure you don’t watch that trailer.