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From the Spanish word malpaso comes the foreboding English phrase, â"bad step." For audiences, this translation may not hint at any degree of looming fate. In the nepotistic case of movie director Alison Eastwood, daughter of picture icon Clint Eastwood, it signifies an unimaginative crossroad in her circuitous artistic journey from Playboy pinup to film forewoman.

Under the tutelage of Malpaso Productions, her pop's film production company, the 36-year-old part time actress (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 1997), model, and fashion designer pumps mishandled steam into her first directorial feature. A wannabe Lifetime Network grade assimilation, Rails & Ties isn't so much a discomforting excursion as it is one embarking to that Godforsaken place that every novice storyteller passes through sooner or later, but none desire to end up — Nowhere'ville. Principals Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden — both of whom worked under the elder Eastwood's sure directorial hand in Mystic River (2003) — look to be offering some sort of artistic indemnification for favors past by coming on board with the fledgling next-generation Eastwood at the helm.

Bacon is Tom Stark, a solemn, long-time veteran conductor who runs passenger trains up and down the west coast. Having already battled cancer into remission twice, Tom's 42-year-old wife Megan (Marcia Gay Harden) is now in stage four. The third time is not the charm. Fifteen years deep into their childless marriage, Megan's done fighting the â"good fight." Tom isn't. She wants to concede, ready to make the most of the rest of her days. Tom doesn't. He's stoically hanging in with their daily struggle to live as loving husband and wife by pushing her to repetitiously continue seeing doctors, take medicines, and undergo alternative treatments. Megan wants to live her life. If only Tom would stop long enough to oblige.

In the form of twisted steel, fate pays the couple a bizarre visit when Tom unavoidably hits a car stopped on the tracks in front of a train he's steering. Behind the automobile's wheel is Laura Danner (Bonnie Root), a depressed, alcoholic, pill-popping mother to an 11-year-old son named Davey (Miles Heizer). She's done fighting, too. Her unwitting child at her side, she's chosen this final parking spot intentionally. Train a'coming, the boy tries to pull his unresponsive mother to safety. For the soon to be orphan youngster, the locomotive arrives as scheduled.

Confidant he made the right decision in not attempting a possible freight-derailing emergency stop, Tom is placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. There isn't a tomorrow morning station departure for the couple to hide behind now. Forced to wait out the pensive situation at home, he and Megan must confront their strained relationship. Absent any light at the end of the tunnel, Megan decides to leave Tom — her packed bags already positioned at the front door.

The trainman gets an unexpected last minute reprieve when the now-foster child runaway Davey pays an angry visit to his home demanding an explanation as to why the engineer killed his mother. Everyone's emotions purged, the despondent Megan decides that she and her inadequate husband can secretly raise the orphaned boy because he needs a family almost as much as she desperately wants one. Tom agrees to the terms when it's made clear that she'll go through with her plans to leave him if he doesn't go along with her newly revised, self-indulgent scheme. It's enough to make your heart swell. From nausea. Megan's heart-tugging terminal condition mechanically functions strictly as a plot device meant to nullify her reprehensible ploy for affirmation before her ticket gets punched.

Rails is an underwhelming directorial debut for the rookie Eastwood. Its paint-by-numbers style and TV movie tone suggest an artist too conservative or inexperienced to dispense with clichés and contrivances. Bacon (one of his generation's best) and Harden give restrained performances that leave them unscathed from collateral damage resulting from a puzzling blended-family plot content with taking the easy way out. Stark accidentally puts Davey's mother out of her misery and then his wife covertly harbors the boy in their home without any regard for his young life in the context of the outside world. It's made clear to the Starks and to us: people are looking for the missing youth.

Taking juvenile welfare issues not even half the distance traveled in last year's Gone Baby Gone, director Ben Affleck's labored inaugural effort at least had the daringness to challenge audiences to contemplate larger family preservation issues related to child protection. Rails doesn't possess the courage to even pose such questions for consideration. It's not embarrassing, nor'isit thought provoking.


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.78:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Commentary
o No commentary available
* Deleted Scenes - 8 minutes of scenes that didn't make the final cut
* Trailers - Theatrical trailers for the following releases: Love in the Time of Cholera and The King of Kong

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging