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Vice City.

Although the swing is nowhere near as severe, Michael Mann’s Collateral also had a bit of a Code 46 problem: Highly promising at first, it ultimately backslides into a much less appealing and much more ham-handed film. Now, Collateral still ends up being a decently enjoyable night at the movies, but the flaws of the final third definitely hurt the overall experience.

All’s well that starts well…the film has a great sense of place, and both Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx are very good throughout. (Despite what many of the reviews say, by the way, Cruise has played a villain before…he was Lestat, and he actually turned out to be pretty good.) And there’s some nice supporting work by Before Night Falls‘s Javier Bardem and The Ladykillers‘ Irma Hall. (Mark Ruffalo seemed slightly miscast as the cop, and he may well be approaching the Stiller Threshold for overexposure in 2004, but he was solid enough.) For the first ninety minutes or so, as Max and Vincent discuss their respective philosophies while making their bloody rounds across the City of Angels, the film (much like Heat) feels like a strangely moody and contemplative Grand Theft Auto mission.

But, when Max’s cab stops for two Very Highly Symbolic Coyotes crossing the street, trouble bells started ringing. And sure enough, soon thereafter, Collateral lapses into over-the-top, nonsensical cheese. The eject moment came for me when Tom Cruise, previously unwilling to venture into one nightspot to retain his anonymity, starts firing away haphazardly in a Chinatown disco. (I guess this is the only club in America without video cameras.) And from then on, the movie takes too long to do too little…the last few set pieces unroll sluggishly, and could all have been cut down by several minutes. By the overblown final moments, I’m sorry to say, I had pretty much checked out. All in all, Collateral is definitely worth two hours of air conditioning, but as for its larger pretensions…Mission Failed.

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