Changing Lanes

I can’t explain the sudden critical embrace this movie has received. Sure, it’s not quite the retarded revenge thriller the marketing campaign wanted you to believe it was, and it aims higher than, say, your everyday Jerry Bruckheimer production, but it’s still a not-so-smart, Swiss cheese slice of a morality tale about utterly unlikable people doing dumb and/or despicable things. Who’d want to watch that? A anti-hero is one thing, but these guys are anti-human!

So you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson downplaying the cool (à la “Die Hard with a Vengeance”) as a lower middle class insurance salesman with a drinking problem who wants only one thing: to get his family back. He thinks he has a shot, too, if only he can convince his ex-wife and a judge that he deserves visiting rights. Meanwhile, we’ve got Wall Street lawyer Ben Affleck, a Yuppie who’s really made it, working for one of the biggest New York firms, which just happens to be owned by the father (filmmaker Sidney Pollack) of his gorgeous wife (Amanda Peet). On this fateful morning (Good Friday, no less!), he’s got to present a file to the court which will give the firm power of appointment over a dead client’s 100 million foundation. Unfortunately, these two hurried men on a mission will clash on the FDR highway, as their cars get into a fender-bender. Jackson wishes to exchange insurance information, obviously, but Affleck just wants to get the hell away and just scribbles him a blank check.

Mmm. To me, this could end here. I mean, a blank check ain’t bad, why get insurance companies involved? Then again, Affleck does act like a dick and because of the incident, Jackson is late to his court hearing, arriving only to find that his ex has been awarded full custody. I guess you can understand him for being upset… To even the deck a little, Jackson already has something to get back at Affleck: the oh-so-important file, which was unwittingly dropped on the scene of the accident and picked up by Jackson. And thus begins a primitive and cruel game of cat-and-mouse between the two. I won’t tell you about all the twists and turns, even though the trailer did a good job of spoiling them, but personally I couldn’t buy most of it. First of all, why can’t Affleck just ask for the stupid file? Does he really think that screwing with Jackson’s credit and having him arrested in from of his sons will make the man want to co-operate? To me, all this would do is make me wanna burn the damn file right there!

Jackson is not much better. Initially, he appears to be the innocent victim, but soon we can see that he’s an asshole himself, the kind of impulsive jerk who beats up strangers on the street or throws a bank employee’s computer into a wall in a fit of rage! I don’t know about you, but actions like this make me lose all empathy for the character. And then comes the kicker, which you’ll remember as the money shot from the TV ads, where Jackson drives next to Affleck and waves some bolts and a tire iron at precisely the same time as a wheel on Affleck’s car comes loose. What a psychotic, criminal thing to do! This is not getting even, this is attempted murder! Furthermore, as this takes place on a busy highway, it’s not only Affleck’s life which is at risk. His out of control car could have crashed in a bunch of other vehicles, and lots of innocent family men could have been injured and make their kids orphans. Really smart move there!

Still, through all this madness, there is some attempt by director Roger Michell and screenwriters Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin to discuss matters of ethics and morality, which is certainly more than most Hollywood flicks are concerned with. “Changing Lanes” is also notable for rather solid performances from the leads and the supporting cast but as mentioned above, one central weakness remains: we don’t feel sympathy for either of the protagonists, therefore we’re not much involved or interested in what happens to them. When Jackson’s ex wife threatens to make sure his kids never see him again, I thought ‘Good, keep them far from this violent lunatic!’ And while Affleck’s character sort of redeems himself in time for the half-assed happy end, he commits too many devious, evil acts through the movie to be forgiven that easily. “Changing Lanes” had the potential to be a challenging, thought-provoking film, but it ends up an uneven, contrived picture. Better luck next time…