Summer Movie Alternative #04: Say no to Knight and Day, say yes to Collateral!

Posted on 25 June 2010 by ShepRamsey

I have to own up to a general lack of inspiration last week for my Summer Movie Alternatives segment.  The source of this ennui can be attributed to a good thing, I suppose.  The whole purpose of the segment was to dissuade people from seeing this summer’s more drab-looking cinematic offerings that were sure to bring in the big bucks.

Last weekend, however, was a horse of a different color.  Obviously I wasn’t going to try and deter anyone from seeing Toy Story 3.  This was a sentiment I had both before and after seeing the film, which is every bit as wonderful as the first two Toy Story movies and the fourth Pixar movie in a row (and in as many years) that is an absolute four-star amazing classic of terrific greatness.  (Guys, guys!  I FORGIVE YOU for Cars, already!!)

On the other side of that equation was Jonah Hex, which most certainly looked awful and in need of a remedy.  I had been planning on writing up an Alternative article to that, but was having a difficult time settling on the right candidate.  I humored many a western from my stockpile of favorite westerns—movies like The Wild Bunch, High Noon, High Plains Drifter, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Proposition, and even Akira Kurosawsa’s western-inspired Yojimbo.  As great as all of those movies are, none of them really kept up with the summer-movie-spectacle tone that was sort of the point of this whole series.

Then I considered, seeing as Jonah Hex is a DC Comics character, to maybe branch out in that direction, and direct peoples’ attention to the absolutely outstanding DC Animated Universe movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.  But then, when the box office numbers came in and it turned out that America apparently didn’t need to be dissuaded from seeing Jonah Hex, then my inspiration for an article was completely squandered.

So for those of you who found yourselves lost without my guidance last weekend, I apologize.  But I hope you did the right thing, anyway, and saw Toy Story 3.  It’s the wonderful summer movie that we’re in need of.

This weekend, however, is back to the ol’ shitty grind.  First up, we’ve got Grown Ups, a movie that could not possibly appeal to me any less.  I’ve expressed before that I like Adam Sandler a lot when he’s doing serious and mature roles in movies like Funny People and Punch-Drunk Love.  But to look at this movie, and then look at Funny People and tell yourself that this one is features an older Adam Sandler than the other, it just seems like a sad massive step backwards.

And then there’s Knight and Day.  I honestly have no idea what to make of Knight and Day.  Some aspects of the trailer seem a little fun—mainly just that charming/zany version of Tom Cruise that I already admitted to liking.  He’s a genuinely funny guy when he wants to be.

The movie itself is clearly seeking to appeal to the Mr. and Mrs. Smith crowd, but doesn’t seem to be anchored onto any kind of tangible…idea.  Generally I take it as a bad sign when I watch a trailer for an easy-to-swallow summer action movie and can’t deter what exactly it’s about.

Such is the case with Knight and Day.  All I can really tell is that Tom Cruise is some kind of covert agent who pulls Cameron Diaz into his whacky adventures against her will.  Hmmm…sound familiar?  It should.

Let’s say that you’re really geared up this weekend to watch a movie where Tom Cruise plays an eccentric man who exists frequently in the line of fire and finds some poor unsuspecting third party to assist him on his journeys.  Well, you could wait in line all night and day to see Knight and Day, or you could stay indoors where it’s safe, cozy up with a White Castle Crave Case and watch Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller, Collateral.

Yes, I know—this is the second Tom Cruise movie in a row to be featured in my Summer Movie Alternatives series.  What can I say—I like Tom Cruise.  Sorry.

And I don’t care who you are or what your opinions on Sir Cruise are, you can’t deny that he’s pretty damn intense in this movie—as is Jamie Foxx, who scored a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role (the same year that he won Best Actor for Ray).

Collateral is a very taut and resourceful thriller, taking place in LA in a single night—or, according to director Michael Mann, specifically on the night of January 24/25, 2004 between the hours of 6:30pm and 5:40am.  Wow.

Jamie Foxx plays Max, a cab driver with a dream.  Specifically his dream is to start an ultra-luxury limousine service.  …Okay, so the guy has an odd passion for driving other people around; it doesn’t mean he’s not a lovely person that is completely undeserving of the horrible tumult that his next fare will bring about.

And his next fare is Vincent, played coldly and maliciously by Tom Cruise.  Vincent offers Max $600 to be his personal chauffer for the night as he makes various stops around the city, taking care of some business.  Mobile-escort enthusiast that he is, Max accepts…then when a body falls out of a second-story window onto Max’s cab, he finds out just what Vincent’s business is.

Yes, Vincent is a hit-man, and Max is pretty much trapped in the ultimate moral conflict—obviously he can’t help Vincent to carry out his crimes, but if he refuses, Vincent will simply kill him and subsequently find some other way to kill the rest of the people on his list.  What can he do?

And now that his secret’s out, Vincent must stick to Max like glue—even accompanying him to visit his sick mother in the hospital—pulling him deeper into the thick of danger bit by bit.

It’s a pretty engaging and suspenseful movie, even if the plot does take a bit of an annoyingly contrived turn in the final act.  It’s fast-paced and exciting—just like every good summer movie should be!

And it boasts a pretty strong supporting cast, too.  Irma P. Hall is fantastic as Max’s mother, who is simply charmed to death by Max’s mysterious new friend.  Mark Ruffalo plays a detective hot on the trail of the night’s murder spree, and Javier Bardem is downright scary (not quite Anton Chigurh-scary, but still scary) in an enthralling one-scene role as the crime boss that hired Vincent.

Michael Mann is an incredibly talented guy, and Collateral is one of his best.  It’s no Heat, but what is?  Where Heat had an intricate ambition that went beyond a simple pulse-pounder, Collateral is like an intelligently bare-bones Hitchcockian suspense yarn.

It’s also Mann’s most successful use of digital videography thus far.  Whereas it was a bit jarring in his period biopics, Ali and Public Enemies, it feels wholly appropriate for this after-hours crime story.  The visual style of the film sets it inside an in-the-moment urban night-vision, which greatly complements the urgency of the story.  It makes the film all the more unique.

Are you really going to get that kind of top-shelf excitement from Knight and Day?  Sure, there will be a few more explosions, and sure there’s the whacky funny version of Tom Cruise, but at the end of the day, how will you not feel like you simply wasted your time on C-level fluff?  Trust me, folks.  Collateral’s the way to go this weekend.

And here’s your added bonus for this one—forget MapQuest, and throw out Google Maps.  All you need to get someplace fast is Jamie Foxx.  Take this very honest, very succinct line of dialogue as he explains why it’ll take Vincent 14 minutes—not 15, not 13—to get where he’s going:  “Two minutes to get onto the 101. Transition to the 110 to the 10 and exit on Normandie is four minutes. North on Normandie is five minutes. Two minutes to South Union ’cause there’s roadwork. Thirteen plus one for ‘shit happens.’”  Ever since I first saw this movie, I have adopted the noun-form of “shit happens” into my standard traffic vernacular, and the spirit of it into all of my travel-time estimations.  Thank you, Collateral, for making the roads safer!

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