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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Click to view! CHANGING LANES (2002)
Starring Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Amanda Peet.
Directed by Roger Michell.
MPAA rating: R

I'll freely admit that Ben Affleck, Boston native, one-time Oscar winner and frequent second fiddle to friend Matt Damon ever since his Good Will Hunting days, has ceased to impress me on any level. I root for the guy, sure—us Bens have to stick together-but from Hunting to Armageddon to Pearl Harbour, the man has done little to show that he's anything better than a mediocre hack with a big name and at big cheque book. Naturally, I had apprehensions about going to see his latest, Changing Lanes, with or without the traditionally superb Samuel L. Jackson.

Little Ben does little to break form—he produces a passable but unspectacular performance as lawyer Gavin Banek—but thankfully doesn't drag those around him down, as he has in past films.

Changing Lanes is the sometimes boring, sometimes brainless story of a Yuppyish Wall Street lawyer (Affleck) and a recovering alcoholic and divorcé (Doyle Gipson, played by Jackson) who meet one morning on the way to the same courthouse. Banek's Mercedes cuts off Gipson's Toyota and the latter is sent crashing into a series of cement-filled pylons. While attempting to exchange insurance information, Banek leaves behind a legal document that proves to be vital to his victory or defeat at the hearing to which he is headed. Gipson picks it up, intending to return it, but is left at the scene of the accident without a working car and ends up 20 minutes late for the custody hearing that decides the guardianship of his two sons. Gipson loses, and Banek is given until the end of the day to recover his document.

For the rest of the film, we follow Banek as he contemplates his own ethics and listen as he peels out clichéd speeches about how money and power has corrupted him with a former mistress and unlikely moral authority. We watch as Gipson sees his world fall down around him, nearly fall back into drinking, and contemplate whether or not to give the file back.

Both men become desperate—Banek for his file and Gipson for revenge-and trade acts of aggression in order to achieve their goals. Gipson eventually makes an attempt on his rival's life, and Banek eventually has Gipson arrested.

Though billed as a psychological thriller, this film is more apt to put you to sleep than to keep you on the edge of your seat. Jackson plays his role as a philosophical idealist with precision, but suffers from an inane plot sequence. From the beginning, it becomes obvious that the file will end up back in the proper hands, Gipson will get a second chance with his kids, and everything will turn out alright, but director Robert Michell (Notting Hill) sees fit to drag the story over 90 minutes. Gipson's example as a man trying to get his life back together and provide a loving home for his family is uplifting, and even Banek's attempts at self-reform are admirable, but the positives are lost in a tedious battle for supremacy that takes up most of the film.

The characters are also unnecessarily profane, which is likely why this film is rated "R."

With films like Spider-Man, Attack of the Clones, and Men in Black II in or coming soon to theatres, you'll want to spend your money elsewhere.
- Ben Forrest
June 2002
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