COLLATERAL Oh, enough with the brooding already.

Collateral
dir. Mann
Opens Fri Aug 6
Various Theaters

In Collateral, Jamie Foxx stars as Max, a cab driver in the hellish sprawl of Los Angeles. Max's fare is Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), who flirts with him all the way downtown. She hands him her business card, he promises to call--and then moments after she has sauntered away, there is a menacing tap on the passenger window.

The menace is a hit man named Vincent (Tom Cruise). Max doesn't know it yet, but he's in for a long night: Vincent needs to be shuttled around the city to make five messy appointments before dawn.

So off they go--Max, now a hostage, steering the determined, unemotional, and morally void Vincent through a nighttime L.A. that only Michael Mann could create. As polished and pleasant as Mann's scenery is (and as good as both Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx are), Collateral nonetheless fails, both as a thriller and as yet another entry into Michael Mann's "brooding men" oeuvre.

And Collateral is, indeed, just a thriller. The plot is pure pulp, and it should have been nurtured and groomed as such, rather than saddled with foreshadowing coyotes or lectures on genocide in Rwanda. Watching Collateral, you can see the straining--the pulled muscles and tendons--as Mann tries to force the film into something bigger than it should be. He wants the picture to transcend its genre, its gimmick; he wants it to transcend Tom Cruise, but that's precisely what shouldn't happen. There's nothing shameful in a well-executed thriller, and given Mann's inability to develop, or even care about, his female characters, the genre should have fit him like the snuggest of sweaters.

In fact, if Mann's real aim with Collateral was for it to be another examination of the complexities and conflicts within XY chromosome pairs, he shouldn't have included Smith's character at all. She may serve the expected purpose in the story--an object in peril--but her presence here feels even more superfluous than it normally would. Women, as usual, are a bother. Mann is only interested in the brooding being passed back and forth in the cab--interrupted, occasionally, by loud bangs.