“Everyone has weaknesses. Superman has Kryptonite. Indiana Jones has snakes. Whitney Houston has Bobby Jones ... and vice-versa.”
Hot off the heels of a critical lambasting from seemingly everybody comes Tim Story's Taxi, the latest Stateside re-hashing of a great foreign movie. The Americanised version of the Luc Besson scripted Euro-hit of the same name is, to be brutally honest, a huge slice of big, dumb, irresponsible junk. And yet, flying in the face of popular opinion, I have to admit that it is all the more enjoyable because of it. Yeah, really. I know, I know. I didn't expect to like this much either, and I suppose that your interest in it can only depend on your tolerance level for Saturday Night Live regular Jimmy Fallon's brand of inane, geeky humour. But, if you switch off your pre-conceptions about the stereotypical, mismatched buddy-buddy set-up that we've all seen a million times before, and the inevitable squirm-inducing sass of hip-hop star Queen Latifah as a speed-freak taxi driver and accept the movie's all-round hokey-ness, then you're in for a relatively painless dose of free-wheeling fun.
Fallon's inept cop, Andy Washburn, simply cannot drive. Latifah's Belle is the craziest cabbie in New York, tooling around in a souped-up vehicle that has more gimmicky gadgets than a fleet of Bond cars. Thrown together by chance they end up being the only ones that can catch a gang of supermodel uber-babes that are hitting banks with a vengeance and then high-tailing it in their own turbo-charged BMW. Story-wise, that's your lot. There may be a vague subplot of the merest variety about Belle and her long-suffering boyfriend trying to get it on, but Taxi really just wants to burn rubber and hustle its comedy duo from one zany set-piece to the next.
Washburn is the typical joke cop - a clueless, excitable parody that Fallon only barely manages to keep the right side of irritating. His lack of driving skills are legendary on the Force and, after a lame undercover operation at the start of the movie fails spectacularly due to his stupidity behind the wheel, he is busted back down to walking the beat. However, this guy is still a disaster just looking for somewhere to happen. Take a gander at the ludicrous car pile-up that he causes with a simple cry of “Freeze ... police officer!” But we are not talking a bumbling Inspector Clouseau here. Fallon is new generation, so we are treated to a veritable torrent of caricature, voice-gags and pop-culture riffs on everything from street-cool to Gollum's precious, as well as the standard slapstick. Now, I've not seen this guy in anything else but it is quite clear that he is NOT the next big thing, despite this movie's almost die-hard intentions to showcase his particular talents. Indeed, director Story seems overly content to allow Fallon as much improvisational antics as he can and, as a result, many one-joke scenes are permitted to carry on for far too long. Allow me to offer up the decidedly less than hysterical driving lesson that Belle gives Washburn as Exhibit A. Despite the perpetually light and breezy tone the film possesses, sequences such as this only serve to embarrass, not amuse. However, compensating for this laziness of narrative verve, the pairing-up of Latifah and Fallon is actually the movie's strongest point and their incessant welter of jive-ass bicker banter is actually quite infectious. That the two have worked together on Saturday Night Live is readily apparent and their onscreen chemistry never appears forced, no matter how contrived their characters and the situations they find themselves in, may be.
Queen Latifah aquits herself pretty well with a fairly one-dimensional character. Her trademark mouthiness works well here when it comes to keeping the idiotic Washburn in check. Although even in a film as light on reality as this, it is still too much to ask us to believe that her adrenaline-junkie Belle was riding that stunt bike through buildings, off bridges and into trains in the opening sequence.
Now, another major ingredient in an action-comedy is that there has to be some action - particularly so in a movie about car-chases. Well, given that this is really just an excuse to give Fallon his big break, we are extremely light on vehicular mayhem. Don't go expecting a Bourne Supremacy-style adrenaline rush with the mediocre road-rage on display here. This is more lax and laborious than Fast and Furious. When the gun-toting totty-team rev up and hurtle down the streets there may be plenty of tyres squealing and mucho swerving about but it's all high-gloss and no-damage. The only nausea caused by these antics is from the one camera trick that the second unit team are so proud of they utilise that often you'll be sick of seeing it. You'll know what I mean - it's the high-speed whip pan of a car racing past you. There's even a little too much CGI for something this light on proper stunts. But then again, maybe I'm falling into the same trap as most other reviewers. This movie is quite squarely aimed at the young teen market - a bit of smutty talk but no sex, gunplay but no blood. It's a safe ride that goes nowhere near the wild side, despite what the tagline may say.
In fact, the only daring moment is when Washburn's gorgeous boss (and, most unbelievable of all, also his ex from police academy. Yeah, right!) played by Jennifer Esposito offers herself up as a hostage prior to the final low-octane chase and is quite hotly frisked by delectable thief leader Gisele Bundchen. There is definitely more than just eyebrows being raised by the many onlookers. Though, speaking personally of course, these supermodels may be super-fit, but they are also a bit super-skinny, too. Then again, I suppose there's always Queen Latifah making up for all that lack of flesh.
On DVD we are treated to two versions of the movie. The first is the 97 minute theatrical cut and the second is an extended edition that squeezes roughly eight or nine minutes of scene extensions into it. For the most part these additions offer nothing of interest except for one brief scene revealing just why Washburn has the name Dan tattooed on his arm. Whilst these little titbits are essentially harmless, you may prefer the shorter edition, especially if Fallon is getting on your nerves.
So, all in all, a pretty slight premise that has to be viewed as a small-time comedy from a couple of big mouths. Dumb fun, no more, no less.
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