Changing Lanes
review by Elias Savada, 12 April 2001

When a spotless, silver Mercedes Benz and an aging wreckmobile collide in the A.M. rush hour on New York City's F.D.R. drive, a stormy battle of a high-powered have and humble have-not begins in Changing Lanes, an engrossing, action-packed vehicle that runs out of gas as it nears its preachy finish line. Some unbelievable character mood swings over the course of this car-crossed tale of two men whose lives are thrown asunder by that fateful sideswipe. Like the old 'Fifties television show, it's one of those eight million stories that embrace the Naked City on any give day. The domino-effect, day-in-the-life approach will follow powerful attorney Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and insurance drone Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Gipson) as they are caught up in tardy court appointments -- representing less-than-honest partners in a multi-million dollar estate dispute or trying to bandage a dysfunctional family wound that threatens to sever his wife and two young boys to Siberia in the Pacific Northwest -- that breeds a nasty outbreak of misguided guilt and ugly reprisals before calmer heads prevail.

There is an excessive air of desperation in freshman Chap Taylor and Academy Award-winner (for The Player) Michael Tolkin's screenplay, exacerbated by the parallel story style used by British director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Persuasion, and the small-but-mighty Titanic Town, a little seen treasure about the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland) as the two protagonists stubbornly battle wits and an occasional inner demon of social consciousness. Salvatore Totino's hand-held, rainy-day cinematography casts a steel-grey pall over nearly every scene. The sun (actually it's snow) will come out tomorrow, the film screams, the day-after sunny soothing of tortured souls par for the moral course in writer Tolkin's work, having extended us cautionary sermonizing begetting ecstatic triumph in several earlier efforts, especially The Rapture and Deep Impact.

Of the stellar on-screen talent, the immensely watchable Jackson recaptures that frustrated essence that hounded his rock-solid-fish-out-of-water Zeus Carter role in Die Hard: With a Vengeance. While beleaguered Doyle Gipson may be from the same stream (his wardrobe has a rather damp aura to it), he comes with the extra baggage of being a recovering alcoholic (with William Hurt popping in for a few shots as his A.A. sponsor) that has forced his estranged wife (Kim Staunton) to desperate judicial measures. Doyle's earnest attempts to paste the fragile fragments of his home life together are tossed into disarray when he's late for court because of that initial fender-bender. Affleck's spin as the callow king of the corporate estate world shows a pull-all-punches flamboyance following the loss (and Doyle's gain) of a folder filled with extremely important legal documents. These papers become a poetic maguffin when Gavin learns from associate attorney/extra-marital plaything Michelle (Toni Collette) that the partners of his public-policy/municipal law firm, Arnell, Delano and Strauss are even more cutthroat than he is. It's all the more of a corporate comedown because Mr. Delano (Sydney Pollack) is an oily son-of-a-bitch AND his father-in-law, who thinks nothing of prodding his agreeable, stunning daughter (Amanda Peet) to slither in the legal slime on dad's behalf.

The streets of New York are covered in computer corruption and verbal mud-flinging as Changing Lanes' dual leads cross more than a few moral boundaries, occasionally stopping by the seed-of-doubt side of the road before cranking up, often with clever abandon (especially when Doyle makes gleeful display of a lug-nut wrench from a taxi passing Gavin on the highway of retribution), their get-back machines. Of course, just as it's battle-scarred contestants sink further into its tit-for-tat, revenge-filled sewer, the ultimate cop-out occurs when Gavin stumbles into a church filed with parishioners observing Good Friday. Saving grace? Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!

Anyway, Changing Lanes is passable enough for a shoot-out in the o.k. court house of life type of flick. Strictly middle of the road.

Directed by:
Roger Michell

Starring:
Ben Affleck
Samuel L. Jackson
Toni Collette
Sydney Pollack
William Hurt
Amanda Peet
Valerie Staunton
Richard Jenkins

Written by:
Chap Taylor 
Michael Tolkin

Rated:
R- Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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