Screen gems...with M.V. Moorhead


For those who have seen the trailer for Taxi, perhaps the best way to review it is to tell you that it’s even worse than the trailer makes it look. For those who haven’t, here’s the premise, as it was probably pitched to the studio:

It’s a buddy picture, see, about this maverick N.Y. cop who’s a bad driver, see, and he loses his license, so he gets this sassy woman cabbie to drive him, see, and they chase bank robbers all around Manhattan, see.

But here’s the big twist—the bank robbers are all supermodels!

It was at this point, most likely, that the drooling executives said yes. And it’s also at this point that moviegoers who care about their time, money and dignity will say no.

Taxi is the most imbecilic and pandering excuse for an action comedy to come along in a while. And while imbecility and pandering certainly do not, in themselves, exclude the possibility of entertainment value in an action comedy, Taxi is also excruciatingly unfunny and unexciting.

Jimmy Fallon, the pleasantly callow comic from Saturday Night Live, plays the bumbling cop, while Queen Latifah plays the cabbie.

They squabble at first, but gradually, guess what, they become friends, and even help each other patch up their rocky personal relationships—Fallon’s with his pretty ex-girlfriend and lieutenant (Jennifer Esposito), Latifah’s with her hunky construction worker boyfriend (Henry Simmons of NYPD Blue, in a male version of the Annette O’Toole role in 48 Hours).

There are also a couple of weird, unsavory episodes involving Fallon’s boozy mom (Ann-Margaret).

Latifah is a beautiful, sexy, commanding screen presence with great timing and a fine sense of comic indignation, and she deserves better star vehicles than this or last year’s Bringing Down the House. There’s nothing really wrong with her performance here, except that it’s wasted on stupid material. Fallon, who had an effective supporting turn in Almost Famous, makes an inauspicious debut as a leading man.

Mercifully, he doesn’t try to play a tough guy; instead he plays the hero as an infantile idiot trying to play a tough guy. But his timing is flat, and you can seem him straining to be funny. Early on it becomes rather embarrassing to watch him—it’s like watching a stand-up comedian bomb. Fallon has a soft, sweet appeal, and he might work as a movie hero, but not this time.

The few watchable scenes of Taxi—which is a remake, by the way, of a popular French movie scripted by Luc Besson—are those in which the tiresome actors shut up, and director Tim Story is allowed to present eye candy in the manner of a music video.

Nothing else in the film is as enjoyable as the funky, whimsical opening title sequence, in which a helmeted bike messenger hurtles through Manhattan, darting in and out of stores and over gridlocked cars. It’s a featherweight fantasy of speed and unfettered urban right of way, and it momentarily raises one’s hopes for the movie.

But then the helmet comes off, and we see that it was supposed to have been Latifah, who must outweigh the svelte rider we just saw by at least 50 pounds. The ungallant laughter that this moment elicits puts any optimism about Taxi to rest.