Hello, assholes! Think that’s rude? Wait till you see Changing Lanes, a film that is unapologetically pissed off. From the opener, when Ben Affleck’s yuppie-scum lawyer Gavin Banek and Samuel L. Jackson’s harried wage slave Doyle Gibson sideswipe each other on Manhattan’s FDR Drive, anger is fuel. What these guys do for revenge during one hellish day in the Big Apple makes the panic room look like Barney’s toy box. The film itself goes off the deep end way before the end credits. Despite slick production values and director Roger Michell’s tick-tock pacing, the final effect is like having two guys yelling in your face for two hours. But in its own shallow, straight-to-video way, Changing Lanes is on to something.
Rage is sweeping the country, on the road and in the workplace. The caring quotient improved a bit after September 11th, but according to a poll conducted by Public Agenda in January, only thirty-four percent felt that that attitude would last. And eighteen percent said it’s already over. Someone’s rude to you, you’re rude back. It’s a domino effect.
The contagion of anger is all over this movie. “Are you all right?” Gavin asks Doyle after the accident. “Are you?” inquires Doyle. And with those niceties, Changing Lanes severs its ties to the civilized world. Gavin can’t be bothered fiddling around for his insurance card because there’s an important file his crooked boss (Sydney Pollack) wants presented in court. Doyle’s car isn’t running, but Gavin’s car is. So off he drives, leaving Doyle with a wave and a smartass “Better luck next time.” What Gavin doesn’t know yet is that he has dropped his file and Doyle has picked it up.
And that’s just for starters. Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin’s blunt tool of a script sets up a collision of cliches. Gavin is trashed in court; if he can’t get the file to the judge by 5 p.m., he’s toast. And the accident made Doyle late for a court date regarding his estranged wife and child custody. “If this was my marriage,” the judge scolds him, “I would have been here on time.” Ouch.
So it goes. Doyle won’t give Gavin the file, even for $10,000. “Better luck next time,” is Doyle’s response. So Gavin arranges to have Doyle declared bankrupt, killing the loan he needs to get a mortgage on a house for his kids. Before long, Doyle is throwing a clerk’s computer through a bank window, and Gavin is smelling blood.
No matter that Affleck has honed his swarm-in-a-suit routine to a fine edge and Jackson commands attention. The movie quickly becomes a gladiator contest that requires more sweating than acting. It’s the jolts that count, leaving scant time to reveal the character flaws in each man. Such social subtleties used to be a specialty for director Michell, as he proved in Persuasion and Notting Hill. Not here. The nerve Changing Lanes touches is unlikely to inspire audiences to sign up for a course in anger management. It’s more likely to rile them up. And if you don’t like it, the filmmakers seem to be saying, then fuck you.