Hit Man Tom Cruise Takes Cabbie Jamie Foxx as "Collateral

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About a dozen times a shift, in order to escape the strain of negotiating his way around the L.A. freeways, he "goes on vacation" by staring at a postcard with a panoramic picture of a lush, tropical island.

One day, he unwittingly decides to give away his calming keepsake to the attractive fare he has been flirting with, Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith), since the tense Federal Prosecutor obviously needs to relax more than Max. What the affable cabbie couldn't possibly know is that he would soon miss the photo because the next person to climb into his car would be Vincent (Tom Cruise), a cold-blooded contract killer intent on hiring his services as a chauffeur for a wild night of sadistic slaughter.

Initially, Vincent is deliberately vague as to why he has hailed a cab, but his purpose becomes abundantly clear after he hurls his first victim screaming to his death through a plate glass window, down several stories where he lands on the waiting taxi below, denting the roof and cracking the windshield. Max, who sees that Vincent is a killer without a functioning conscience, knows that he cannot run but must adapt to his dire circumstances to survive.

Collateral proceeds to take place over the course of just one very eventful evening in the emotional pressure cooker created by a soulless madman who clearly will let nothing prevent him from keeping his appointed rounds. For Vincent's evil assignment is to rubout all the key witnesses scheduled to testify in an imminent criminal case.

This is the set-up of Collateral, a lump-in-the-throat roller coaster ride which comes courtesy of three-time, Academy Award-nominee Michael Mann. Mann is the highly-regarded director responsible for recently coaxing Oscar-nominated performances out of both Will Smith (in Ali) and Russell Crowe (in The Insider). This go-round, he inspires both Messrs. Cruise and Foxx to give career performances in service of his hair-raising adventure.The film also features Will's wife, Jada (Matrix 2 & 3), along with
another Oscar-nominee in Javier Bardem (for Before Night Falls), plus such noted charactor actors as Mark Ruffalo (In the Cut), Peter Berg (Girl 6), Barry Shabaka Henley (The Terminal) and Irma P. Hall (The Ladykillers). This talented cast collaborates to produce a surprisingly engaging and unusually satisfying drama, given its ridiculous plotline.

Afterall, a story about a cabbie forced to provide the getaway car for five separate murders sounds preposterous on its face. But in the hands of Michael Mann, not only is the tale believable, but it might even be the best action flick we get to see in 2004.

Superb dialogue, Oscar-quality acting, taut editing, spectacular stunt work and frequently breathtaking cinematography all add up to an experience which ought to be remembered come awards season. If you only see one flick this summer, you definitely need to get out of the house more. But this is the flick you shouldn't miss.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.

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