"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 skillsand the accidental killing of a parrothave 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.