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Directed by Michael Mann.
Written by Stuart Beattie ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl")
Starring Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  8/6/04


Michael Mann hasn't really made a bad movie ever.  "Ali" was a bit long-winded; "Manhunter" was a bit misunderstood.  But, in "The Last of the Mohicans", "The Insider" and the guy requisite crime classic "Heat", everything came up roses.

While "Collateral" is not a classic, it does a lot of the things that made "Heat" so strong, and it sort of serves as the third piece in a chain of projects that Mann has made that deal with the crime scene of Los Angeles, after "Heat" and "LA Takedown", a TV project that once again gives us cops and robbers in a violent setting.  This time around, there's Vincent (Tom Cruise), a contractor that comes to LA late one night and takes a cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) for a ride that ends up taking a turn neither man expected when the night began.  One thing's for sure:  lots of people get shot in the chest!

The look of "Collateral" is once again Mann's biggest asset.  LA is gorgeous in his work; from the city lights to the landscapes visible from seemingly every apartment in the city, everyone's got a gorgeous view of the action.  Much to my friend Ross' delight, the fabulous shots of characters as they ride along in their vehicle of choice (although, it's mostly a cab in "Collateral") make you feel at home, and since you haven't spent this much of your movie in a car since "Training Day", this is a good thing.  The action is sporadic in this flick; it's hard to really even call it action, since the violence is sudden, loud and intense but very dramatic.  There are no set pieces like the long bank robbery that bridges the two halves of "Heat", but the violence here is effective because every time Vincent breaks out a weapon, you fear for someone's life...but, he goes long stretches without having to use it, instead making a crack here or a demeaning remark there to break the tension in-between kills.

Cruise is his usual self; sure, he's the bad guy this time around, but he doesn't do anything particularly menacing (you know, like beating a handicapped guy or shooting an innocent mother) and his mission for the night is never fully explained, so even as his character makes hit after hit, you're not sure if the guys he's taking out are really bad people or not.  It doesn't help matters that he generally seems like a nice guy when he isn't plugging holes in other people, much like the De Niro character in "Heat" that only seems to commit crime to make a living.  You get over the Cruise hair thing very early on, by the way; I thought this would be a distraction after a while but that fades by minute two.

Foxx is the real strength of "Collateral"; he is a very good fit, especially if you know who was supposed to play the role of the cabbie:  Adam Sandler!  I remember following this film last year when it was still in pre-production, and Sandler was set to play this part until contract negotiations broke down last July.  It would have been hard to buy into "Collateral" with Sandler as the driver; I think I would have been more amused by fear on the face of Sandler than I was on the face of Foxx; from the word go you believe the Foxx guy to be this pitiful Joe Regular that he comes off as in the film.  Foxx also seems to be a better fit for the script (which undoubtedly changed when Sandler dropped out), since the minimal amounts of humor in this flick come from both Cruise and Foxx over the course of the run time; with Sandler, you would imagine that he would have had more of the comedic burden and the kind of comedy he excels at is not a fit for "Collateral."

There are a plethora of other name actors; Javier Bardem, Mark Ruffalo (his part was originally going to be played by Val Kilmer, who worked with Mann in "Heat"), Jada Pinkett Smith and Peter Berg all show up during this flick, and all are excellent.  I loved an early scene with Foxx as he drives the Pinkett Smith character to her destination; the tone of it, the subtle romantic undertone, the clumsy way that Pinkett Smith leaves her number with the cabbie.  I loved the shot of Vincent first asking for a ride in Max's cab, then turning to get a ride from another cabbie...just seeing how close Max was to having a normal night was great.  The soundtrack is stellar and as a production, "Collateral" just seems to do all the little things very well.

The weaknesses of the film are minor but add up, for sure.  For reasons I can't explain now, there are a couple of coincidences with Vincent's hit list that seem to be a real stretch; the last one, in particular, had me up in the arms in the back of my theater.  A shootout at a club should have been better; it has the makings of "'Heat' Bank Robbery 2" but doesn't play out that way.  It was still cool, but it wasn't the legendary piece it could have been.  Some of the dialogue feels beyond familiar, especially as Vincent preaches to Max about his job and how good he is at his job; some of these scenes feel Hollywood-ized, like they know they're making another hitman movie but don't have the desire to dig out of this mold.  Also, doesn't Vincent use a loud handgun often for someone that is trying to stay out of the limelight?  Sometimes, in Cruise's hands, the gun looks like a hand cannon, and depending on your theater, it will sound that way; this seems like an odd weapon for someone to carry into an apartment complex to carry out a clandestine operation.

There are other things as well, but again, while minor they don't take away from the good vibes I came away with after seeing "Collateral."  I may not see it again, but you'll feel good about dropping $9 to see this smooth operation.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09