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[whitespace] Afflecked

'Changing Lanes' changes lanes once too often--wipes out

By Richard von Busack

A RICH AND CROOKED New York lawyer named Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is in a hurry to carry out some chicanery. On his way to court, he sideswipes a working-man's car on the FDR Parkway. Gavin tries to pay the other victim off with a blank check, but Doyle (Samuel L. Jackson) is currently in AA and being mentored by an exacting sponsor (William Hurt). Doyle demands that the right legal thing be done; despite his pleas, Gavin drives off, stranding Doyle in the middle of traffic. In his haste, however, Banek leaves an all-important folder behind. Strangers when they meet, Gavin and Doyle are suddenly at each other like seasoned chess players, sabotaging each other's lives.

Jackson is stuck here playing Doyle as a little guy (with doofus spectacles) whose ex-wife is about to take their children to Portland, Ore. As the divorced wife, Kim Staunton tries furiously to play some of the year's most impossible dialogue about hoping to meet "a dull bearded man" out West. Two lines about how she'd landed a high-tech job in some rainy northwestern potato patch might have helped sell her character's incredible vacillation.

Changing Lanes depends on a lot of slick-movie coincidences, but it's done vérité style. Director Roger Michell's hand-held camera swerves through a city of jostlers. In widescreen New York locations, citizens trample the viewer underfoot. The dream house Jackson's trying to prepare for his ex-family sits flush against a transmission repair business. Tell me again why Portland is supposed to be so horrible?

As usual, Affleck comes across as a slightly spicier version of Tom Cruise: the bad boy who needs a refresher course in ethics. He ends with his face ever so slightly bruised, newly sensitive. Compare him with director/actor Sydney Pollack, head of Gavin's corrupt law firm and Gavin's father-in-law. Pollack looks as if he had his nose hardened in street fights. By contrast, Affleck looks as if he saw some really tough movies once.

Amanda Peet continues to show promise in a one-scene part as Gavin's wife. She has an engaging Jacqueline Susann-style monologue about how she has learned to cope in a wealthy, amoral world.

In sum, the out-of-control Changing Lanes seems to have the intentions of Susann without her talent to amuse. If the movie industry wants to examine the casual corruption of a business climate in which everything's for sale, that's one thing. But it's wearisome being preached at by people who could buy and sell the likes of us--people telling us it's just as well we never got our hands on any of that big crooked cash that makes them all feel so guilty at the end of the day.

Changing Lanes (R; 95 min.), directed by Roger Michell, written by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin, photographed by Salvatore Totino and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck, opens April 12.

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Web extra to the April 11-17, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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