Death hails a cab, dyes his hair silverResidents of Korea who make the mistake of seeing “Collateral,” the new Tom Cruise thriller, will at least get a kick out of one of the shootouts, because it takes place in a sleek dance club in Koreatown in Los Angeles. It’s a good shootout, noisy and messy and confusing, accompanied by a techno track in which a simple Korean phrase that I should probably recognize by now is repeated over and over.
Director Michael Mann has a gift for atmosphere, especially when it comes to neon and warm city nights. That aspect of his talent is put to use in “Collateral,” which is a sort of one-night tour of Los Angeles, allowing for a series of interesting urban settings like the Koreatown club and a strange, blue-lit Latino country-western bar. But Mann (“The Insider”) is too good for this material. He pretties it up, but he can only offer a certain amount of distraction.
Cruise, at his least interesting maybe ever, plays a silver-haired hitman named Vincent who’s in Los Angeles to kill five people. As is apparently his modus operandi, Vincent hires a cab driver ― in this case, one Max (Jamie Foxx) ― to drive him from hit to hit.
Max isn’t supposed to know what Vincent is doing, but the first hit goes wrong: as Max waits outside, idling the engine, the victim lands on the roof of the cab from a few floors up. The cat out of the bag, Vincent has to improvise; he takes Max into his confidence (at gunpoint) and orders him to drive him around to his appointments as scheduled.
You may have questions already. Why would a professional murderer hire a witness to drive him around? Why would he do so in a cab with a caved-in roof? Why not just write “arrest me” in blood on the rear window? You’re asking the wrong person.
Meanwhile, Max, played ably enough by Foxx, is afraid to follow his dreams. He has been telling people for years and years about the limousine service that he’ll someday own, but in the meantime has kept on driving a cab. By contrast, Vincent, whatever you think of the fact that he kills people, is a take-charge, can-do individual.
And, so on this fateful night, Max will not only confront lethal danger, but his own personal demons. In the cab, between kills, he and Vincent will argue about their approaches to life, and talk about their childhoods. Why not? You’ve got to talk about something.
At one point, Max takes Vincent along to the hospital to see his ailing mother. Vincent forces him do so, because Max visits his mother every night, and the slightest break in Max’s routine ― the very slightest ― might attract attention. So might the blood-stained, corpse-shaped indentation on the roof of the cab, you’d think. Am I back on that subject? I’m sorry.
The fine actor Mark Ruffalo gives a quiet, shaded performance in a supporting role as a cop. That’s the last positive remark I’ve got. Jada Pinkett Smith appears at the beginning as a federal prosecutor Max charms during a cab ride. Will her life be endangered by the end of the film? Will Max be the only one who can save her? In the real world, or in a movie less trite, you wouldn’t think so.
Thriller, Action / English
by David Moll