***1/2 (out of 5)
August 6, 2004
Tom Cruise as VINCENT
Jamie Foxx as MAX
Jada Pinkett Smith as ANNIE
Mark Ruffalo as FANNING
Peter Berg as RICHARED WEIDNER
Directed by: Michael Mann
BY KEVIN CARR
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The first time I heard of this film was like the title of a “Friends” episode: “The one in which Tom Cruise plays a bad-ass.” I had to raise an eyebrow to that one because I thought he already played a bad-ass as Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire.” However, I understand this label considering that Cruise has made a habit of playing the hero and never a villain almost as much as Arnold Schwarzenegger has.
Of course, what I found more intriguing for this film was Jamie Foxx’s performance as something other than a buffoon. Sure, he had a dramatic turn in “Any Given Sunday,” but between “Collateral” and the upcoming “Ray,” it’s clear that Foxx is trying to shed his Bunz roots in “Booty Call” (although I did love “Booty Call”).
“Collateral” is a one-night story in which an L.A. cabbie ends up with the wrong fare. Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise) at the start of the night. Vincent tells Max that he has only five stops to make and implores him to (against company policy) stay with him through all five stops. Of course, the $700 that Vincent waves in Max’s face helps convince him to stick around for the ride.
Things get dicey, however, when at the first stop, Vincent kills a man. Suddenly, Max finds himself a hostage who has to drive the heavily armed and totally sociopathic Vincent to his other four hits during the night. Meanwhile, Max and Vincent are being tailed by a street detective (Mark Ruffalo) who stumbles onto their trail.
As I said earlier, a big feature of this film is that Tom Cruise plays a villain. But aside from the inconsistent length of his facial hair between takes, Cruise continues to be charming and charismatic. He doesn’t quite fit in as the villain. It’s as if there’s a part of him that is yearning to come out, flash that Tom Cruise smile and woo the audience.
Maybe Cruise is too pretty to play an effective bad guy. Notice I said “pretty” and not “attractive.” Good looking bad guys go back as Dracula. Pretty is a different story. Pretty is safe. But even then, Cruise is a good enough actor to play the bad-ass. He just doesn’t do it consistently. Too often the film wants to show bonding between Max and Vincent, which never really takes. But maybe this is more the fault of director Michael Mann, who possibly could not resist Tom Cruise’s charm.
For a big, dumb summer action film, “Collateral” works. But as a taught psychological thriller, this taxi cab runs over a few pot holes. First of all, Vincent is a lousy hit man. God knows why drug kingpins hire him to do his work. He kills too many innocent people, makes big scenes when he does so, and doesn’t exactly blend into the night life wearing a flashy suit, sporting blond highlights and wearing sunglasses after dark. Plus, with his affection for gunning down police officers and randomly breaking necks at a dance club, it is unlikely that Vincent would be invited back into the city of angels to make any more hits.
Jamie Foxx does a surprisingly competent job as the mild-mannered Max. In fact, he does an excellent job, even managing to act circles around Tom Cruise. He’s actually the best thing in the movie.
Overall, “Collateral” kept my attention, except for a few scenes where it was deemed necessary to add a lot of useless dialogue about jazz, limousine companies and hospital stays. But in general, these scenes were spread around and eventually moved to the next piece of the action.
While the plot manages to avoid the temptation of a list of Hollywood cliches, it still is unable to avoid the biggest cliche of them all – that with a population of 4 million people in the city limits, it’s still a small world and everyone’s path ends up colliding. But I guess is wouldn’t have made that good of a movie if they hadn’t.