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A.J.'s Rating: 2 Superficial Stars
Changing Lanes
Directed By:  Roger Michell
Written By:  Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin
Starring:  Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, Sydney Pollack
Rated:   R ( Language )
Running Time:  120 Min.
    Changing Lanes chronicles one very bad day in the lives of Doyle Gibson and Gavin Banek.  Doyle, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is a working class, recovering alcoholic on his way to a custody hearing.  Gavin, played by Ben Affleck, is a hot-shot New York attorney on his way to a hearing that could decide who gains control of the high-powered legal firm he works for.  As fate would have it, they both end up on the F.D.R. trying to occupy the same space at the same time.  Doyle's car takes the brunt of the damage in this fender-bender, and Gavin tries to apologize in the way he has become accustomed, by writing Doyle a blank check.  Doyle, rattled by the accident and wanting to follow the rules, declines this monetary compensation.  Since Gavin is already late for his hearing, he decides that he's done what he can, and drives away, leaving Doyle with a flat tire.  He also leaves behind the most important file to his case, which Doyle finds.  As a result, Gavin cannot prove his case, and losing the file could cost him his legal career.  Meanwhile, Doyle arrives late for his hearing, and loses custody of his children.  This chain of events sets the stage for an escalating duel of vengeance between the two men, as Gavin attempts to get back his file, and Doyle attempts to get back his life.  (Symbolism fans take note: 'file' is an anagram of 'life')
    You would think that this would set the stage for much excitement, but Changing Lanes has its roots set not in action, but in the cynical study of human foibles.  In fact, if you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've seen all the thrilling moments in it.  In between Gavin's and Doyle's battles, the dramatic scenes that actually progress the film's message trudge along rather lifelessly, and, just like a car wreck, bring the entire pace of the movie to a screeching halt.
    It's a shame that this movie doesn't just focus on the conflict between Doyle and Gavin, since the rise of hostilities between them is quite compelling, and reminded me of a two-man version of the film Falling Down.  Unfortunately, there are many boring supporting characters to deal with as well, including William Hurt in a cameo role as Doyle's not-so-helpful sponsor.
    It's also a shame that this morality tale is so superficial and stereotypical in nature.  Gavin works for one of those big evil law firms seen in just about any movie made during the 1980's, and Doyle is so focused on bettering himself that, under stress, he speaks in a cryptic language only other 12-steppers can understand.  Would it be too much to give these characters a little depth?  Or, failing that, how about mixing up the casting of this film a bit?  Imagine Ben Affleck as Doyle, Samuel L. Jackson as the head of the legal firm, and maybe Cuba Gooding Jr. as Gavin.  Granted, that twist may be as superficial as the rest of this movie, but at least it would be more interesting!
    As for the performances of Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, both are better than the material they are performing.  Samuel L. Jackson plays the part of 'rightous anger personified' better than just about anyone, and Ben Affleck, well, I suppose he plays 'Ben Affleck' better than anyone else could.
    So, while Changing Lanes didn't make me think of changing theatres, it didn't make me really care much about watching it, either.  Take my advice and pass on this one, at least until it hits the rental shelves.
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Review published
April 13, 2002
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