After two more plainly prestigious projects (Ali
and The Insider
), Mann returns to his stock-and-trade: the glossy, kinetic crime thriller. Cruise and Foxx may be billed above the title, but the movie’s real star is Los Angeles at night – the neon-saturated streets, the promenades of palm trees, the nexus of freeways lit up with taillights. Enter Max (Foxx), a straight-arrow cabbie who picks up two fares in an evening. One is Annie (Pinkett Smith), an overworked prosecutor who slips him her card after some friendly banter. The other is Vincent (Cruise), a businessman who hires Max for the rest of the night, promising five stops and a 6am flight out of LAX. Little does he realize Vincent’s business is murder, and Max quickly becomes an unwilling accomplice. The story is leaden, but Mann’s direction is characteristically fleet, street-level, and energetic. He indulges in lavish aerial photography of the downtown high-rises and films Cruise in a jerky, handheld style (shot, it appears, digitally); the film always looks great, even when it’s not. Of particular note is a gorgeous action set-piece in a crowded nightclub tricked out with indoor waterfalls and giant video monitors. When they’re not bickering about morality or predictably teasing out each other’s backstories, the two leads are peeling out down Cahuenga to the ear-bleeding strains of Audioslave or James Newton Howard’s bombastic orchestral score. There’s not much substance lurking beneath all the style, though the plot digresses into several awkward scenes intended to flesh out the characters (Vincent is a jazz nut; Max’s mother is Irma P. Hall). You can’t fault the actors, who seem to be working at fever pitch. Mann gets a lot of mileage out of the vulpine quality underneath Cruise’s matinee-idol veneer – his seething grin, his feral physicality. Cruise and Foxx are fine in the film (though Stuart Beattie’s script banks too much on Foxx’s ability to get laughs), but there should be more of a film for them to be fine in. Ruffalo makes a dent as a dogged narcotics detective, and the Spanish superstar Javier Bardem appears as a crime boss. Overall, however, Mann seems content to play games with his fast cars, cool streets, and loud rock, leaving Collateral
squarely within the action genre.