Collateral Review
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For the past month, I’ve been taking taxis to ensure I get to work on time. I thought about my particularly urban plight at the movies last night—though it’s not my home, New York City, but Los Angeles that provides the backdrop for Collateral, a suspenseful flick about a cab driver (Jamie Foxx) forced to drive a hit man (Tom Cruise) on a killing spree.

The hit man, Vincent, possesses a love of jazz that parallels his virtuoso skill for popping off his targets, often in nightclubs. And don’t second-guess Vincent’s bebop trivia knowledge: one hit is dispatched following a wrong answer about Miles Davis’ musical education (no extra credit here!). With one hand Vincent pulls the trigger and with the other lovingly lays the dead man's head on the table. It's an oddly touching moment. Max, the cabbie, is the unwilling audience for this show—and the encore is that he’ll be framed for the hits and made to appear a suicide.

In this L.A. twist on Driving Miss Daisy, I noticed that all the characters spoke like New Yorkers. I hear director Michael Mann originally wanted the movie to take place in New York City. I’m guessing the location was nixed for the following reasons:
  • In Manhattan, Vincent wouldn’t have been able to get a cab at rush hour short of gunning one down. Period. End of movie.
  • If, by some miracle, he hailed a cab, he wouldn’t be able to get in the cab without the cabbie first grilling him on how far he wanted to go because he was about to go off-duty.
  • A New York cab driver never gets a high-powered lady lawyer’s phone number, unless she’s really ugly. In the movie, the lovely legal-eagle is Max’s taxi passenger who serves as a love interest. Annie the attorney dovetails nicely later in the story because she shares an ominous connection with Vincent, but the downside is that she’s played by Jada Pinkett Smith. The instant rapport between Max and such a ball-buster isn’t believable. I could, however, picture her taking down his medallion number to file a complaint.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, in Manhattan, the stench of the cabbie's B.O. would have knocked Vincent right out of the taxi.
With better actors than Cruise and Foxx to tear into these roles, this film may have become a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the two stars have their own images to maintain, which interferes with character development. Luckily, the story is tightly written, and the suspense is taut despite manifold implausibilities. While I didn’t bite my nails, I did tear a cuticle.

My greatest complaint is that many characters are too direct and tough-talking for Los Angelenos. Despite its Manhattan wanna-be-ness and mostly vague, wooden performances, though, Collateral remains a thrilling ride.

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