"Taxi" may be an American remake, however loose, of the 1999 French
action picture by Luc Besson, but its source material is beside the
point of its real goal. Directed by Tim Story (2002's "Barbershop"),
this comedy-and-car-chase-heavy telling is mostly just an excuse for
the unlikely paring of Queen Latifah (2003's "Bringing Down the House")
and former "Saturday Night Live" member Jimmy Fallon (2003's "Anything
Else") to argue and quip their way through 90 minutes. The time spent
with them isn't interminable, but it is as light and frail as a house of cards.
Officer Washburn (Jimmy Fallon) is a bumbling NYC cop whose terrible
driving skills—and the accidental killing of a parrot—have put him
in hot water with his superior, former gal pal Lieutenant Marta Robbins
(Jennifer Esposito). Now without a license or a mode of transportation,
Washburn's pursuit of four notorious female bank robbers (Gisele Bundchen,
Ana Cristina De Oliveira, Ingrid Vandebosch, Magali Amadei) leads
him to hop into the cab of Belle (Queen Latifah). Belle, a feisty
extreme driver whose souped-up taxi would make the characters in "The
Fast and the Furious" supremely jealous, is happy to give Washburn
a lift at first in exchange for a fee, but soon regrets it when their
high-speed trail puts them way in over their heads.
"Taxi" shifts gears roughly every fifteen minutes between rousingly
elaborate car chase sequences and getting-to-know-you exposition that
halts things to a stop. Had director Tim Story cut out the latter
and concentrated solely on the hunt, he might have been on to something.
Cinematographer Vance Burberry, along with editor Stuart Levy (2004's
"Catch That Kid"), certainly know how to shoot and piece together
some breathless, exciting car chases, smoothly weaving in and out
and between traffic, the camera never resting for a solitary moment.
It is only when the action ends and the frivolous story takes over
that viewers have a chance to think about how flimsy the whole thing is.
When they are standing still and forced to talk, it becomes apparent
that the characters have little of interest to say and even less to
do, perhaps because they are uninteresting themselves. They are simply
going through the tired motions, the conventions of the buddy comedy
creaking loudly in their wake. It would figure that the film's most
clever one-liners and exchanges are reserved for when Washburn and
Belle are on the road and coming within inches of death, marking the
in-between scenes as all the more desperately wanting. This is also
a case when the PG-13 rating sanitizes some potentially uproarious
moments, with occasional lines bumpily cut short or dubbed over to
save itself from the dreaded R. In the process, the studio has compromised
quality for the sake of the almighty dollar, a tendency in mainstream
cinema that has grown terribly burdensome in recent years.
Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon share an amiable, zippy give-and-take
rapport, but Latifah is far and away the star attraction. She relishes
her every line deliveries and gives them all she's got, but one cannot
help but be dismayed at the lackluster jobs Latifah has been taking
since her Oscar nomination for 2002's "Chicago." The actress is a
big talent, but too often wasted in slim throwaway roles that fail
to do her justice. Fallon, meanwhile, is passable, but should try
to reel in his mania and not try so hard in his next film outing.
He frequently mugs for laughs, rather than genuinely warrants them.
As the evil leader of the beautiful bank robbers, Brazilian model
Gisele Bundchen (also known as Leonardo DiCaprio's longtime girlfriend)
turns in a heartening and sexy screen debut with next to no dialogue.
Also making notable appearances are Jennifer Esposito (2004's "Breakin'
All the Rules"), as Lt. Marta Robbins, and Ann-Margret (1999's "Any
Given Sunday"), as Washburn's ever-drunken mother.
"Taxi" misses the mark as a comedy, obvious all the time where one
is supposed to laugh even as not very much of it is actually funny.
As an action film, it is a little better, squeaking by on the adrenaline
with which the chase scenes are brought to life. But, ultimately,
to what end do they serve? With seemingly every other motion picture
these days featuring cars careening recklessly through city streets
and freeways, the novelty has worn off. Without a fresh angle to portray
them, and with no useful material to support them, "Taxi" is but a
spiffy-looking ride on a road to nowhere.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman