I spent most of this film trying to figure out the official name for the color of Tom Cruise's hair. Perhaps it's something simple like "Maverick Silver" or "Spalding Gray," but I'm inclined to think that Clairol or Revlon -- or whoever is hoping against hope that men coloring their hair will miraculously become the next "in" thing to do -- will go with "Complex Assassin White" or "Blond with Attitude."
Cruise plays Vincent, a silver-topped, overconfident assassin who hops in the back of Max's (Jamie Foxx) cab and begins a series of five jobs by launching some guy onto the roof of said cab from four floors up. "You killed that guy," Max says. "No, the bullets and the fall killed him," Vincent retorts. Wow -- A flippant killer in American cinema? Now there's a novel idea. From that point, we know that Vincent is not only going to kill folks with spunk, but he's going to have some witty remark at virtually every turning point because, as we all know, assassins are great at banter.
The other thing that's so obvious it hurts is that Max will eventually figure out a way to thwart Vincent's night of killing. The two have nothing in common, so director Michael Mann keeps their relationship on a curious edge, somewhere between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling or Jim Belushi and K9. Sometimes they bond, like when the two visit Max's sick mother (Irma P. Hall), and sometimes they nearly come to blows, which you'd expect in a wacky "cab driver meets trained assassin" buddy movie like this one.
The sheer number of disposable characters in the film is staggering. As they each drift onto the screen like so many discarded plastic bags, we wonder, sometimes aloud, why Mann is even wasting the time. There's L.A. detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, Weidner (Peter Berg), seemingly hot on Vincent's trail. There's Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), predictably figuring in the end of the movie since she appears in the first few minutes and then promptly disappears. And of course, there's Irma P. Hall, providing that cute moment that all of us film critics savor like the bad gas of the person seated in front of us.
Mann has a bad habit of submitting to a sort of sensibility that reminds one of watching a commercial for a car so amazingly cool that you know you'll never own one or even ride in one. In many ways, Cruise and his new hair color fit the bill: It's kind of cool, but it's such a stretch that we never really buy in to the experience.
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