Changing Lanes (2002) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, Sydney Pollack
Director: Roger Michell
Screenplay: Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin
Review published April 13, 2002
If Changing Lanes proves anything, it's that good acting, directing, writing and production values aren't always enough to make a good film. Changing Lanes doesn't do anything wrong per se, the main problem is that it just wasn't that great of an idea to begin with. While its pessimistic views on law, business, and the state of the world as a whole make for some interesting monologues and ethical dilemmas during some of the better scenes, it's the contrived core plot that lets the film languish lackadaisically for 75% of the film. Luckily, there are a handful of terrific moments, occurring just often enough that you won't lose interest altogether.
The core plot involves two very different citizens of New York who are both driving on the freeway on the way to a big day in court, one being the hotshot lawyer out to control a dead man's charity and the other a lower-class father trying to get his family back after succeeding in getting a loan for a home. They collide with each other...literally...and in the ensuing fracas, the lawyer accidentally leaves an important folder for his case with the other man shortly before offending him. The case he is working on hinges on the paper within, but he only aggravates the other man when he tries to retrieve it. Soon the two men end up offending each other to the point where they make each others lives hell, just to get back some revenge for stepped-on toes.
While Ben Affleck (Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Pearl Harbor) does an adequate job as the corruptible attorney, it's really Jackson (Formula 51, Unbreakable) and a very good supporting cast that gives the film a solid acting foundation to be almost believable, with especially good performances by Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts) as the experienced, seasoned partner in the firm and Kim Staunton (Holy Man) as Jackson's wife. There are also some good moments in the ponderous script that offer up food for thought, and had the twisty plot been a little less ambitious, Changing Lanes could have been a very good film. However, even though all the parts were there, director Michell (Notting Hill, Enduring Love) isn't quite able to put it all together in a satisfactory way, although he is clearly a very talented director. It's really the phony-baloney story that does Changing Lanes in, and the realistic acting and characters aren't enough to make serious contrivances fly.
Changing Lanes is recommended for audiences who prefer films that have good social commentary even if they are a little lacking in the credibility department, and fans of the two stars. For the rest, it probably is worth watching on cable television or once it hits the dollar rental bins.
©2002 Vince Leo