Meet Belle (Queen Latifah), a classic New York loudmouth with a hunky boyfriend and a dead-end job. By day, she works as a bike messenger, hustling from destination to destination, utilizing garbage truck roofs and crowded department store floors as shortcuts. By night, she spends her time skipping out on dates and transforming her Crown Victoria into supercharged yellow taxicab. After all, if she’s going to drive at NASCAR someday, she will need a lot of practice, and if she can win the title as the Big Apple’s fastest taxi driver, it might help her chances.
Now, meet Andy Washburn (Jimmy Fallon), a bumbling misfit of a New York City police officer. He screws up nearly every case his lieutenant – who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend – throws at him. Most recently, he blew an undercover assignment by getting his partner shot in the arm just before crashing the police car into a street market. His driver’s license has been revoked (not that he could ever drive), and now might fight the streets of New York on foot.
Soon after, while taking a relaxing stroll downtown, Andy hears of a bank robbery taking place nearby. He jumps into Belle’s cab and orders her to head to the scene of the crime. Reluctantly, she follows his orders. When they arrive, they encounter four Brazilian supermodels, armed and dangerous, fleeing the crime scene. Belle – with her supercharged cab and amazing street smarts – catches up to the criminals’ blazing red BMW. Of course, the models manage to escape, but what they don’t realize is that Belle and Andy are about to team up, forming an unlikely – and unsafe – partnership to track them down and crack the case on their own, without the assistance – or approval – of the rest of the police force.
A remake of the 1998 French movie by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), Taxi relies entirely on the chemistry between the lead actors to carry it through an implausible, contrived plot. Surprisingly, Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon share a mildly likeable chemistry, despite Fallon’s obnoxious overacting. A native SNLer, Fallon can’t even keep a straight face during the serious stuff let alone the scenes in which he howls hideous melodies while Latifah teaches him how to drive. Such moments have the potential to be funny, but Fallon doesn’t trust the jokes themselves; he thinks he has to make them funny. He doesn’t understand that funny sometimes needs to be played straight; jokes aren’t funny when the actor is laughing while he is telling them.
Luckily, Latifah holds the film together with her exuberant, stronghold personality. Although playing “the woman who wears the pants” is nothing new for Latifah, over the past few years, Latifah has mastered the art of playing Latifah, and she does it quite well here. She’s the best thing in the film. If not for her haughty presence, Taxi would have been doomed for a straight-to-video release, guaranteed.
Taxi blends car chases, action, excitement, and whimsical humor in an entertaining – albeit forgettable – fashion. I can’t, with a clear conscience, deny that was cheering for Latifah to clock ones of those Brazilian models, and I laughed uncontrollably once or twice. For instance, when Andy’s clumsiness places Belle and himself in an explosive situation while locked inside a room filling with laughing gas, the results are hysterical. Additionally, Andy’s mother (Ann-Margret), who lives her day-to-day life in a constant drunken stupor, extracts explosive laughs whenever she is on screen.
Other jokes, however, fall flat on their ugly faces, such as a running gag involving Andy’s police badge, and the opening scene in which Andy investigates a crime undercover and in disguise. Taxi shines at times, but Fallon manages to sneak his way inside the mechanics of the humor and throws a monkey wrench in the gears before the laughs become too genuine and authentic.
Baby, you can drive my car.
Review by Blake French © 2004 filmcritic.com