Die Hard is arguably one of the greatest action movies ever made, and one of my personal favorite films. All of the pieces just seem to click together perfectly. We have a badass everyman hero who cracks wise and gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are a group of terrorists led by a memorable villain, that will stop at nothing to get what they want and put our hero’s family in danger. It has great supporting characters on both sides to flesh out the movie and raise the already high stakes. It bombards us with tons of top-notch action and comedy, keeping us entertained, engaged, and on the edge of our seats the whole time…but this column is not about Die Hard. It’s about the numerous movies that try to copy and capitalize on the aspects of the Die Hard formula. This is one such film…
Derailed is a 2002 action film directed by Bob Misiorowski (1999’s Shark Attack) and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (you know who he is). Now, I have to preface this article by stating that I LOVE Jean-Claude Van Damme. He is my personal favorite action star and I tend to watch and enjoy his lesser known work of varying quality just as much as his more recognizable hits. I made it my mission to watch all of the JCVD films that passed under my radar. In fact, I have not found a Van Damme film that I didn’t like…until I watched Derailed.
JCVD plays Jaques Kristoff, a NATO operative called upon to escort a woman named Galina (Laura Harring) set to deliver (by train) a bio-weapon to the authorities along with information about the terrorists she stole it from. Our buddy Jaques has to do this on his birthday, no less! It might as well be Christmas! (Tee-hee) Also, the terrorists she stole it from are after them…and she used to work for the terrorists…and the bio-weapon gets released on the train…and Kristoff’s family is on the train too, after coming aboard to surprise him for his birthday…and if Kristoff can’t stop the terrorists, the government is going to destroy the train and all its passengers to contain the virus. Whew…everybody got that?
This film came at an odd point in Van Damme’s career. It came after his superstardom and string of hits through the 80s and 90s, but before his underdog comeback of more recent years. This fell smack dab in the middle of his lesser known, little noticed, direct to DVD films of the early 2000s. That isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, as there are some gems and valiant efforts in this period (Replicant, In Hell, and Until Death were all pretty great in my eyes). Plus, this film contained many of the elements that worked so well for Die Hard: one man against a group of terrorists, his family in peril, having to hide in confined spaces and slowly work his way to the final boss, and high stakes in a limited time frame. So, what could go wrong? …A whole fucking lot.
For starters, the dialogue is atrocious. Every line uttered is a poorly done action movie cliché, a ridiculously unbelievable delivery for the sake of exposition, or some baffling combination of the two. I would give some specific examples, but I can’t really bring myself to go back and watch any of it to make sure I get the lines right. Usually, dialogue is something you try not to scrutinize too much in an action film. After all, most of us aren’t there to see realistic conversations taking place between loveable characters; we’re there to see some shit get blow’d up! However, when a movie is in as dire straits as this and even the action comes up short and unfulfilling, it’s hard not to notice how bad the dialogue is and even harder to give it a pass. The scenes of Galina and her former boss turned Van Damme antagonist flirting/fucking/fighting (the 3 F’s I call ‘em!) make me long for another unimpressive fight scene in a confined space.
Unlike Die Hard, every single character is bland, cliché, and forgettable. All of the main characters could be plugged in to any other action movie and come out just as boring as they do here. Even my beloved Van Damme can’t seem to pull it together to toss some much needed charisma on screen. The secondary characters are nothing but cringe worthy. On the good side we have a rich cowboy oil man and a romantic “bad boy” with a heart of gold clichés. For the bad guys we have two terrorist flunkies in love and the terrorist leader’s right hand lady that just wants to please her boss. She’s also jealous of his relationship with Galina. You know what that means! Cat Fight!!! *yawn* They add nothing to the film but running time and this film clocks in right under 90 minutes, if you catch my drift.
The effects! Dear god, the effects! This film contains horrible CGI, obvious green screens, and an overall tone that is so unrealistic it’s hard to worry that a character will get a paper cut, let alone die! Don’t worry; it’s not all CGI though. They also toss in some miniatures and model work for several train sequences that make it seem like the director had to buy his kid a train set for Christmas and was determined to get his money’s worth. Honestly, it’s the mixture of these two that drive me crazy. If it was all crappy CGI, I could chalk it up to a low budget or production problems and let most of it pass. If it was all shitty practical effects, I could admire the effort and skill that went into it, even if it did look silly. But no, the film spends more than its first half with nothing but horrible CGI, to the point where it would have been smarter to cut most of it and just show the aftermath of action scenes practically. They could have cut to stock footage of a car exploding and just tossed the actors next to some small fires and debris afterwards, and it would have been so much more believable and enjoyable than the shit it tries to shove in our faces. On top of this, it randomly throws in childish model train effects that are so off-putting compared to the rest of the movie. I literally did a double-take and had to watch the sequence again, just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating out of boredom!
Alright, I need to calm down. Look, I really wanted to like this movie, as I do all of JCVD’s work. I tried…really I did… I think it took about 15-20 minutes in for me to sense I was in trouble. I gave it every chance and pass I could muster, hoping for it to turn itself around and become something more, but it never does. It isn’t even on the other side of the spectrum: a laughably bad film, which I would have happily taken if it couldn’t be good. It was just infuriating and sad and boring, at best. Even a too-little, too-late on/off ride along with the train motorcycle sequence couldn’t help repair the damage that was done. The title for this film pretty much sums it up. Someone seemed to have a decent idea somewhere. Something like, “So get this! How about we take Jean-Claude Van Damme, put him on a train fighting some terrorists while trying to contain a deadly viral outbreak?” Somewhere down the line it went off track.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh on this film. It wasn’t entirely painful to watch. I never thought about turning it off or clawing my eyes out or anything. It was just…disappointing, both as a Van Damme fan and as a fan of Die Hard-esque movies, but especially as a Van Damme fan. This was not a fun way to start this column. I’ll have to remedy this immediately. I know! Join me next time when I take a look at the most famous of Die Hard rip-offs, the Under Siege films, starring everyone’s 4th or 5th favorite action star, Steven Segal!