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Review: 'Collateral' thriller with few thrills

Tom Cruise role his first as full-fledged villain

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer
If you can get beyond the flawed setup, Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx make a great team.
Los Angeles (California)
Javier Bardem

(CNN) -- Michael Mann's latest film, "Collateral," starring Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith, is a suspense thriller with little real suspense and few thrills.

It's visually stunning with taut direction and excellent acting, but the film never really takes off -- until the breathtaking chase scene during the last 10 minutes of the film.

By then it's too little, too late.

I kept waiting for the movie to kick in, but ultimately I just couldn't get past the initial premise. But Dreamworks need not fear: When it comes to box office, Cruise is bulletproof and this flick will make millions.

Cruise plays Vincent, a contract killer who comes to Los Angeles to commit five murders during the course of one night.

The five people in question are witnesses about to testify against members of a drug syndicate that is on the verge of being indicted by a federal grand jury. So far, so good.

But instead of renting his own wheels, or getting some goon from the syndicate to drive him around, he randomly hires a cab driver, Max (played by Foxx), to chauffeur him through the dark, slick streets of L.A.

I just couldn't buy that. It feels like false jeopardy, feeding fake dramatic tension. Why would a professional hit man -- no matter how psychotic -- take an eyewitness along on a murder spree?

If you can get past the basic setup, however, Cruise and Foxx do make a great team.

Max has ideas of starting up his own limousine service, but after driving a hack for 12 years, the dream is still a distant one.

When we first met the laid-back cabbie, he has picked up U.S. Attorney Annie Farrell, played by the always stunning Pinkett Smith. The two make a bet over the fastest route to her destination; Max proves to be right.

Charmed by his sweet manner and earnest approach to his job, she gives him her business card at the end of the ride. Yes, we'll hear from her later.

His next fare will change his life.

Vincent slides into the back seat of his cab, and against his better judgment, Max accepts a wad of cash to be Vincent's driver while he makes a series of stops in order to do "some business," the exact nature of which he keeps very vague.

When the first hit results in a dead body falling from a window and smashing into Max's windshield, things turn real nasty, real fast. Instead of just killing Max for witnessing the botched hit, Vincent forces him into becoming an unwilling accomplice.

Again, this makes no sense whatsoever. Of course, if Max was knocked off at this point, this would have made a very short movie.

Soon after they make their deal, they're pulled over by the police -- because of the broken windshield -- but just when it seems that the jig is up, the two officers are called away due to a major crime in progress.

Again, fake jeopardy and false dramatic tension. As the evening progresses, the two develop a strange co-dependent relationship, and again the entire situation is hard to swallow.

On the plus side, Mann's muscular directorial style is felt from Vincent's arrival at LAX in the very first scene.

As always, Mann makes the location -- this time, the city of Los Angeles -- feel like an additional character, adding another dimension to the film.

Also, toward the end of the movie Pinkett Smith re-enters the action, and the final minutes of the film are hang-onto-your-seat thrilling.

Mark Ruffalo ("13 Going On 30" and "You Can Count On Me"), Peter Berg ("Cop Land" and the TV series "Chicago Hope"), and Javier Bardem (Academy Award nominee for "Before Night Falls") all have supporting roles, and their combined talents add a great deal of depth to the mix.

Also of note: This is Cruise's first time out as a full-fledged villain. Sure, he played a blood-sucking immortal in "Interview With The Vampire" in 1994, and a sleazy self-help guru in "Magnolia" in 1999, but never has he been so flat-out evil, and he does a magnificent job (as does Foxx as his unwilling foil).

For this role as a stone-cold killer, Cruise has changed his whole look to help make the shift -- sporting gray hair and a tight, custom-made suit, both of which add to the transformation, giving him a chilly, distant authority and a sense of obsessive control.

Bottom line: There is a lot that is very worthwhile and extremely entertaining about this film. Mann's visual style is without doubt unique and totally mesmerizing, and the music (James Newton Howard is the composer), ranging from techno to jazz, is first-rate.

But again, the script's premise is built on a false foundation, and ultimately I just couldn't buy it.

"Collateral" opens nationwide Friday, August 6. Rated R. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

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