Directed by: Tim Story
Starring: Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Henry Simmons, Jennifer Esposito, Ann-Margret
Queen Latifah handily walked away with the show in Chicago. She enlivened the uneven Bringing Down the House. Her scenes in Barbershop 2 were among the film's highlights. So what is it with her and these steaming piles of donkey crap like The Cookout and the dreadfully unfunny, unexciting, uninspired and occasionally offensive Taxi?
I have to confess that I took a little nap during the middle stretch of the film, but that may be the only reason I'm willing to give it a half-star edge over Hilary Duff's vehicle of destruction, Raise Your Voice. Taxi was at least more restful, but in its own way, it may actually be a worse movie, since it wastes not only Queen Latifah, but also the rightly legendary Ann-Margret.
If you've seen the film's lackluster trailer -- complete with the bewhiskered tag line, "He's armed, but she's dangerous" -- you've seen the film. All you've missed is 95 minutes of padding. I've never seen the original French film (also produced by Luc Besson), but I'm hard-pressed to imagine that this three-course turkey dinner isn't considerably worse. And if the U.S. version spawns two sequels (as its French counterpart did), it'll be proof that Hollywood filmmaking has sunk to new levels of desperation.
The story line is weak to start with. Fallon stars as the world's stupidest cop, who also happens to also be the world's worst driver. So when his driver's license is snatched (why not his badge?), he finds himself taking newbie taxi driver Queen Latifah's improbably souped-up cab to a robbery.
We already know what a badass of the road the Queen is. She's even hell on wheels with a bicycle, suggests the movie, which opens with her -- or, more correctly, her 30-pounds-lighter stunt double -- zipping through Manhattan on her last day as a bike messenger. Soon after that, we see her scaring the life out of a hapless passenger in one of her first taxi jobs. "Buckle up for safety, mother..." she tells the client -- interrupted by a quick cut to squealing tires so as to keep that PG-13 rating.
Not surprisingly, once she hooks up with the blander than bland Fallon, Latifa proves to be a better detective than he is. One of those improbable odd-couple buddy-bondings ensues (you wonder why I nodded off?). I suppose this kind of bubble-headed froth could have been mildly entertaining, but absolutely none of it works, thanks in no small part to Fallon and the character he's been given.
Beyond being unfunny and unappealing, he's so lame and stupid that he's actively annoying. And I don't see him as much of a box-office draw. More than two or three "hot" Saturday Night Live veterans have learned the hard way that what -- and who -- people will watch for free at home doesn't translate into what -- and who -- they will actually pay money to see.
Based on this film, I'd say Fallon is not likely to become the next Chevy Chase or Bill Murray, and probably not even the next Dana Carvey. The next Julia Sweeney might be nearer the mark. Taxi might not quite be in the It's Pat league of awfulness, but when it calls on Fallon to do a Natalie Cole impression, it's not too far off.
Fallon is not the only fly in the ointment, though. Latifah simply coasts on her personality, and while director Tim Story may have scored big with Barbershop, he's utterly off-key here. Even though I'd readily concede that no one much cares about chase/crash action scenes anymore -- what can possibly be shown that hasn't been shown by now? -- the ones in Taxi are among the most inept I've ever seen. The ridiculous and badly done pileup featured in the trailer is typical of the action scenes throughout the entire movie.
The blame for this could perhaps fall on the shoulders of second-unit director Brian Smrz, but considering that his credits in this capacity include X 2, there must be some other hand at work, too.
The real kicker is the screenplay by Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon (both of TV's Reno 911!) and Jim Kouf (Snow Dogs). It is not only unfunny, it's generally dreadful. Guys, this is 2004, and by now we ought to be way past the idea that alcoholism is a laff riot. In addition, it's utterly degrading have an actress of Ann-Margret's caliber play a "funny" alcoholic.
Everyone involved in this movie seems in need of a lesson in when to stop. Taxi reaches its predictable climax a good five minutes before the movie finally takes pity on the audience and ends, thanks to an interminable scene of Latifah as a fledgling NASCAR driver (complete with a cameo by Jeff Gordon, who shows all the acting skills he brings to his Coca-Cola ads).
If you absolutely must see this movie, be sure you follow it up with another look at Chicago and remind yourself what Queen Latifah can do.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke