Among triumphs like “Spider-Man 2” and disasters like “Soul Plane,” one film emerged from the shadows this summer: Michael Mann’s “Collateral.” This neo-noir romp through the dark alleys and blinding lights of Los Angeles is a breath of fresh air and a teeth-grinding game of cat and mouse. Well-known for his abilities in action and suspense from such projects as “Heat” and TV’s “Miami Vice,” Mann knows how to bring the goods. Splitting the fare in this fast-paced taxi ride is Tom Cruise, who plays an exceptionally convincing stone-cold, psychopathic killer. Opposite Cruise is former “Booty Call” star Jamie Foxx playing the ordinary guy with unusually bad luck. The two actors have delightfully unexpected chemistry, helping bring the characters off the screen and into reality. Thanks to writer Stuart Beattie, who also penned “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” the story is engaging and contains an almost painful realism. The quality of writing in “Collateral” brings an element of truth to the film that no expensive special effects could ever provide.

The story starts out in the metropolis of Los Angeles, far from the glitz and glamour of Rodeo Drive; Mann’s vision of L.A. is realistically dark and gritty. Los Angeles becomes a sea of ominous neon lights and fluorescents that seem to bleed through the black night sky. Max (Foxx) is a taxi driver who takes great pride in his vehicle and his knowledge of the city. Max is the antithesis of self-absorbed psychopath Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” and he works two jobs in pursuit of the American Dream. Enter Vincent (Cruise), who is actually invited into the cab by Max, classically oblivious as to what he is getting himself into. In typical noir fashion, things happen by coincidence and luck. Vincent is a calculating killer who sees killing not as personal but purely as business, while Max plays the film’s voice of reason and sanity. From the moment the first murder takes place, the obvious “Why is this happening?” dialogue begins and the film takes shape. Cruise and Foxx get to show off their talent, and Vincent and Max come alive as wonderfully written and acted characters. Though Max attempts to get at Vincent’s conscience, he has little success, and it is best understood that Vincent has no regard for human life. In a key scene where Vincent gets intimate with a target he admires, Vincent eliminates him without mercy or second thought. Rarely in a film noir does the psychopath have to face judgment or justify himself to anyone, which is why Max is crucial to the plot, helping the audience comprehend how Vincent could be so brutish and unfeeling. As the characters get deeper and deeper into the night, the balance of power begins to shift. Max realizes his life is in danger as well and takes it upon himself to see that Vincent’s mission is unsuccessful.

“Collateral” is as interesting as it is action-packed. Those who are looking for action will squirm with delight to see excellently choreographed gunfights throughout the movie. Those looking for more substance will be pleasantly surprised by Foxx’s serious performance. “Collateral” is definitely worth your time and money.