Tom Cruise is a baaaad man. At least he plays one in Michael Mann's new movie. Grizzled and scarred, Cruise is a contract killer on the hunt in L.A. Mann, who has a history of challenging actors with unexpected roles -- Russell Crowe in ''The Insider,'' Will Smith in ''Ali'' -- loved the idea of Cruise indulging his blacker side. ''He brings so much aggression and charged energy to this character and a kind of dark, wonderful humor to it,'' says the director.
To get into the head of a hired gun, Cruise became close friends with a firearm, trained in hand-to-hand combat, and dabbled in undercover surveillance. His foil in the movie is Jamie Foxx, who plays a cabbie forced to chauffeur the killer to his crimes. (Rounding out the cast, Mark Ruffalo and Peter Berg are cops, and Jada Pinkett Smith plays a marked woman.)The story kicks off at dusk and climaxes by dawn. ''The structure of the screenplay, you could tune your piano to it,'' promises Cruise. ''It's that tight and that sharp.'' Meanwhile, Mann has turned his cast and crew into a gang of night crawlers. ''The night in L.A. is alive,'' he says. ''The whole evocation of life cruising through the night is to me a really interesting odyssey to try to base a film on.'' Sounds like we should catch the midnight show.