A Queen in Men's Territory
Immediately, the idea that Taxi is a transplanted script comes to mind because one of the first things that happens in it is a reckless high speed drive through the streets of New York City. Trying to believe this could happen, in the manner it happens here, already takes large doses of self-persuasion. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong -- maybe cars can go blasting through the traffic if the drivers know just where to avoid the gridlock. I realize it's just a movie, but all I'm saying is that it'd be easier for me if these scenarios occurred more often on wide streets through sparsely populated towns.
Anyway, I mention it feels like a transplanted script because it is -- Taxi is a remake of a 1998 French film co-produced and written by none other than that boy-wonder-at-heart, that slick-action-tale spinner Luc Besson. He's produced this American version as well, and you can see the fingerprints -- the cars are sleek and fast, the women are hot, and the cop procedural theatrics are a-plenty. Usually, Besson's got enough testosterone in his stories to make Vince McMahon look like a "girly-man" -- even when his hero is a heroine, she's usually eye-candy for the guys -- but here we get an interesting twist when the heroine is Queen Latifah.
Latifah and director Tim Story put in a noble effort to give this type of action-comedy a brand of feminine warmth that's otherwise usually missing. No distant brooding hero types here -- Latifah once again makes it her specialty to be urban, assertive, smart, sassy, and sexy. Say what you will about her playing into a popular black woman stereotype -- I'm always able to discern an intelligence behind Latifah's antics, something that tells me she knows the material and is in control of it, instead of it being the other way around.
Too bad the same can't be said about her co-star, Jimmy Fallon. In this picture, she's the taxi driver and he's the cop, but actually he's the Unhip White Buffoon. Unlike others who have had a better grasp of that role, Fallon can't get a handle on his own schtick, so his laughs come from an angle of desperation as he resorts to spasms and unsubtle facial contortions. He serves as a poor counterpoint to Latifah; whereas she seems natural with her comedy, he appears awkward and obvious. The laughs from the pairing aren't strong enough because they mostly have Latifah just making fun of Fallon when, really, the prevailing feeling is that she ought to slap him.
Without a good comic dynamic to thrive on, the movie doesn't have much else to support it -- it's yet another actors-playing-cops-and-robbers flick in the mode of Rush Hour. Those are a dime a dozen, so it's always the actors that make any of them stand out. I love Latifah, who almost does the job here, and that's probably the highest compliment I can pay Taxi.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for language, sensuality and brief violence.)
Review also posted on www.windowtothemovies.com.