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Tom Cruise plays
Don Johnson in
Michael Mann's
latest picture.

Collateral
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Ah, Michael Mann.  He haunted me with the inexplicably popular Miami Vice television series during my Junior High years.  He was the first to bring Hannibal Lecter to the screen with Manhunter, an adaptation of Red Dragon, and in doing so proved that even the scariest of novels can be lit with neon and turned into a "Very Special" episode of Miami Vice.  He directed the first film bland enough to put me to sleep with The Last of the Mohicans.  He managed to have me nodding off a second time with The Insider.  I attempted to get through Heat three times before giving up on ever completing the bloated cops-and-robbers story.  Although I was assigned to write the review for Ali, I left the theater 100 minutes into the movie and told my editor that I'd rather be fired than sit through another minute of that film.  I swore to myself that I would never see a Michael Mann picture again. 

I intended to keep the vow I made to myself to avoid Michael Mann in the way he'd avoid shooting a modern day movie with no neon lights.  Early reviews praised the film and I debated attending, but decided to visit my grandmother and file her toenails, instead.  They're thick.  And yellow.  And still more entertaining than a film by Michael Mann.  The movie opened and the audience got me with their praise of Jamie Foxx's performance.  Could he pull off a serious role?  According to some, he outperformed Tom Cruise.  On Sunday night I broke down and bought myself a ticket.           

Paying full admission price to a Michael Mann movie was akin to an alcoholic trading in his sobriety pin for a beer.  Like a neo-con at Fahrenheit 9/11, I sat in the back and I sat low.  I felt as guilty as William Shakespeare would have attending a Carrot Top movie.  The theater lights dimmed and the movie began.  I swallowed hard and prepared myself for the worst.  What I got was the best Michael Mann helmed picture to date.  And it still wasn't that good.

The movie starts out entertainingly enough.  The neon-lights are kept to a minimum and nobody is wearing a Don Johnson suit.  Jamie Foxx does an outstanding job playing a hopelessly romantic dreamer of a cabdriver.  He has mad chemistry with Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays a prosecuting attorney with pre-trial jitters.  If Jada and Jamie had sat in the cab the entire film, talking about their hopes and dreams, I would have been perfectly satisfied.  Is there some unwritten rule in Hollywood that Jada can only appear in glorified cameos? 

After Pinkett leaves the cab, in comes Tom Cruise.  His hair is dyed gray because it worked for Russell Crowe in The Insider.  His suit is silver, because it worked for Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Cruise is a hit-man having a busy night.  He needs to kill five people before 6:00 AM.  Jamie Foxx is forced into being his driver.  The movie maintains a certain energy throughout its first hour.  The way Cruise's character handles a corpse.  How nonchalant he is about murder and death.  To his credit, Michael Mann captures the oddly soothing feel of riding in a cab down empty roads in the wee hours of the night.  That's quite an accomplishment, considering that the cab's passenger is a Sociopath with a gun and a hit list.

Unfortunately, Mann doesn't fully trust his instincts and trades this intimate setting in for helicopters and fast cars and chase scenes.  Mann begins adding lots of the neon crap and Best Buy looking multi-screen video that he's been obsessed with since it was actually "hip."  He also has enough shitty music to create the worst soundtrack in the history of cinema.  What's up with the bursts of electric guitars that dominate so many of his films?  By the time he takes us to an 80's looking nightclub known as "Fever," the movie has turned into a frenzied mess. 

After the Miami Vice nightclub set piece, the movie heads into "ridiculous thriller mode."  People hide under desks and see shadows of Cruise stalking them. Tom Cruise becomes the T-1000 and runs and jumps onto trains.  Neon lights glow for no reason.  People act as though they're in a slasher movie; doing all the wrong things at all the right moments.   Like many slasher films, characters are grossly underused.  I challenge anyone to tell me the purpose of Mark Ruffalo's character in the film. 

Michael Mann has been stuck in the same groove for so long; he's as predictable as boredom during Sunday mass.  Could someone please let him know that we're in the 21st Century, Miami Vice has been cancelled and he can move on?  There are plenty of moments in Collateral that prove he's ready to create a film worthy of his hype.

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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