If humor's your destination, don't bother hailing `Taxi'


October 06, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVE CRITIC

Taxi contains exactly one genuinely funny line, and it comes after the movie's over, in an outtake - proof that the "creative" minds responsible for this movie wouldn't know a funny line if it was said right in front of them.

What we have here is a movie that imagines Queen Latifah as a New York City bike messenger of blazing speed; that occurs in a world where it's possible to drive from midtown Manhattan to JFK Airport in 15 minutes during midday; and that sees the height of comic wit as naming a garbage collector after a Supreme Court justice. The character's name is Anthony Scalia, the justice is Antonin - guess the filmmakers didn't want to seem too obvious.

Or too funny, judging by the film, which is about as uproarious as a Supreme Court justice, and filled with gags as old.

Behind the wheel, Latifah's Belle Williams is a hard-core speed demon (she's amassed more than 50 speeding tickets) who's spent most of her life dreaming about getting a hack's license. On the day she succeeds, as luck would have it, one of her first passengers turns out to be Fallon's Andy Washburn, a disaster of a cop who can't drive, can't shoot, can't go undercover, can't do anything but get on people's nerves (the audience's included).

Before anyone can say "stock character," Andy has commandeered Belle's cab and ordered her to drive him to a bank robbery in progress. When they arrive there in time (the robbery took only 35 seconds, we're told later, so either Belle drives at warp speed or the rest of Manhattan took the day off), Andy immediately botches things. After a high-speed chase, the four robbers - all played by high-fashion models, led by Gisele Bundchen - get away. This puts Andy in hot water with his boss (Jennifer Esposito, who's specializing lately in surviving messes like this with her dignity intact), and leaves Belle's cab in the impound lot.

But Andy perseveres, convinced that the only way he can get his job back is to catch these glamorous, pouty thieves. And Belle stays with him, first out of desperation, then out of a sense of responsibility, finally because she starts to like the guy.

For Fallon, who left Saturday Night Live this year to devote his time to a movie career, this is not a good start. In skits, his boyish enthusiasm mixed with rampant cluelessness is genuinely funny; stretched over an entire film, it's genuinely burdensome. And the script, adapted from a French film written by Luc Besson, resorts to yuks that were tired back when the Keystone Cops were using them: Taxis speed backward; a car runs over a fire hydrant and water comes up through the engine; Andy's such a bad driver that his idea of getting out of a parking space is hitting the cars in front of and behind him until they move.

Taxi's only saving grace is an inexplicable, though delightful, turn by Ann-Margret as Andy's ever-tipsy mom. She's a stitch, and about 100 times better than her surrounding material.

What was Queen Latifah possibly thinking? Since her Oscar nomination for Chicago, her star's been steadily rising, thanks to the fitfully funny Bringing Down the House and the wittily endearing Barbershop 2: Back in Business.

Taxi smacks of desperation on the part of an actor with nothing to be desperate about; she looks anything but happy to be in the movie, and spends half the time wearing the same expression, a quizzical sneer accompanied by a half-closed eye and a tilt of the head. Had she shot the same dismissive look at the agent who first approached her with the script, we'd all be a lot happier.


Starring Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon

Directed by Tim Story

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13

Time 90 minutes

Sun Score *

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