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It's time to hit the town

Turns out the 'mean streets' of Los Angeles in 'Collateral' may just be grumpy.

August 05, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

On its surface, "Collateral" is about a cabdriver (Jamie Foxx) held hostage by a hit man (Tom Cruise) who has come to Los Angeles to silence witnesses in a case against a Colombian drug cartel. Deeper down, it's a valentine to the L.A. that tourists never see.

The idea behind the movie, which opens Friday, was to evoke the grittier landscape of East L.A., downtown, Commerce and Wilmington, director Michael Mann has said.

But how much of it is Hollywood make-believe? We retraced the route one night to find out.

Cool air flows through the car windows as we cruise in downtown Los Angeles. A turn at the light on Aliso and Spring streets, and we arrive at our first stop: a mostly dark stone building at 312 N. Spring St.

The evening begins. There's almost no one around to notice.

Evening -- U.S. Attorney's Office: Cab driver Max picks up Vincent, the assassin.

"1039 South Union," Vincent says.

The Harbor Freeway is sluggish but not rush-hour jammed as the car rolls toward the red Staples Center sign. The exit onto Olympic comes quickly.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 06, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
"Collateral" map -- A map with an article about the movie "Collateral" in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section mislabeled View Park as Baldwin Park.

9:28 p.m. -- 1039 S. Union Ave.: Ramon Ayala, a.k.a. the "Fat Angeleno," tumbles through the fourth-story window of apartment No. 30 and onto the windshield of Max's car, which is parked in a back alley.

"You killed him," Max yells.

"No, I shot him," Vincent deadpans. "The bullets and the fall killed him."

The real two-story apartment building on Union is putty-colored stucco, guarded by a black iron gate. A helicopter passes overhead as one resident, taking a quick smoke before heading to his night job, points out apartment No. 22, where he says the Fat Angeleno scene was filmed.

Neighbor Maria Del Sid barely cracks open her door as she explains: "I didn't pay attention" to the filming, because life here is too "complicated" and full of work and family and chores.

The alley where Max parks his cab is actually about 10 blocks up Union in a "dicey" area known as the Mexican Jungle, said Julie Herrin, the movie's production manager and associate producer.

The guys loitering outside the apartment near that alley have hard eyes and tough demeanors. The street was closed during filming, they say, so no, they didn't see a thing.

10:17 p.m. -- 7565 Fountain Ave.: Before leaving Max in another alley, Vincent ties the cabby's hands to the steering wheel. Vincent tells the doorman at a swanky high-rise condo that he is a notary, getting instant access to target Sylvester Clarke.

"Good news, we're ahead of schedule," Vincent says as he and Max later gas up.

The condo, miles and tax brackets away from the Mexican Jungle, is actually the Renaissance Hotel at Hollywood and Highland, but the view in the movie is pure downtown -- shot at the Standard Hotel on South Flower Street. (Herrin recommended drinks at the rooftop bar there.)

On the Walk of Stars, teens in miniskirts and retro jeans flirt. Sammy Mas watches it all from his Yellow Cab at the curb. He says that fears about those he drives are always present.

"I've had the most ordinary people sit in the car, and they turn out to be the ... craziest psychos," he says, adding that to be a cabby, "you have to have one too many screws loose."

But he says, Hollywood and Highland is a "regular Joe's town" -- nothing to worry about.

11:42 p.m. -- Daniel's Jazz Club in Leimert Park: Owner Daniel has no idea it will be his last night on stage as he blows cool tunes from a trumpet.

"It's off-color, off-melody -- improvising, like tonight," Vincent says of the music.

Cheerio's, on Leimert Boulevard, served for the exterior shot of Daniel's club. The jazz and blues karaoke dive has that cracked-plastic seat and sticky bar feel -- a place too comfortable to fit the movie-star L.A. image.

Keith, no last name, is the kind of bartender who remembers the regulars.

"This is more like a family bar," he says. "We know [customers'] drinks, when they drink it and how they drink it."

If Cheerio's is like a comfy pair of jeans, the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown, where the interior of Daniel's club was filmed, is like a little black dress -- slinky, sexy, cool. Martini, anyone?

Actually, the drink of choice is the $8 Lapu Lapu, a mint-garnished rum and juice concoction described as "tranquil."

The music -- a man called El Rojo strums a bass, while Yasuko plays piano -- vibrates through the audience, as owner Frank Quon talks of Cruise, Foxx and Barry Shabaka Henley, who plays Daniel.

"They came and sat right here," Quon says, pointing to the middle table closest to the bar.

Detour -- El Rodeo, a club in Pico Rivera: Max and Vincent are trying to recover the hit list they lost during a trip to the hospital to visit Max's ailing mom, Ida (Irma P. Hall).

"Just take comfort in knowing that you never had a choice," Vincent tells Max just before the cabby walks into the club.

The tables at El Rodeo are bigger than those in the Chinatown club and seem half a world away.

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