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Just as subtle and almost as fun as a rush-hour traffic jam

'Taxi,' which stars Jimmy Fallon and wastes Queen Latifah, never finds its way.

October 06, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

"Taxi" stars Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon as a cabbie who can drive and a cop who can't. Fatefully, Belle Williams (Latifah) and Andy Washburn (Fallon) cross paths as Belle embarks on her maiden taxi voyage in a tricked-out Crown Victoria and Washburn hails her en route to a bank robbery. "You took a cab to a bank robbery?" his hot lieutenant, Marta Robbins (Jennifer Esposito), asks later in dismay, bad guys still at large in a gleaming Beemer. It's a weird question, considering she's just divested Washburn of his license. But, by then, other, more pressing questions have cropped up. Like, who gave the guy a license in the first place? And, who green-lighted this movie? And, what would happen if I just closed my eyes for just, like, a second?

Based on the sequel-spawning, Luc Besson-directed French hit of the same name, "Taxi," which was directed by Tim Story and written by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf, looks just like an arcade game sponsored by BMW and Victoria's Secret. Cool! If you're 12. Besson's original Marseille has been replaced with New York and, more notably, the formerly German bank robbers have been nixed in favor of a gang of nefarious Brazilian supermodels led by Gisele Bundchen.

In case anybody is wondering, she does, yes, model some underthingies; her bra peeks shyly over the top of her tank top (giving what is perhaps the movie's finest, most expressive performance). Later, she and the other girls ditch bank robber outfits for bikinis. Sometime after that, they frisk the hot lieutenant. There's something here, ostensibly, for everyone; or something here written by everybody -- at least so it seems. (Writing credits with both "ands" and ampersands in them are so rarely a good sign.)

A former bike messenger, with a need for speed -- she dreams, yes, of driving in NASCAR -- Belle at first relishes the chance to flip all the switches in her wicked Bond-mobile for Washburn. (The Ford Motor Co. has never been so flattered on film.)

After the first chase results in a 50-car pileup in Midtown (this on the heels of Washburn's crashing into an East Village bodega), Lt. Robbins takes Washburn off the case and keeps Belle's cab in custody.

What follows is a freelance crime-fighting caper -- he wants his job back, she wants her car -- full of car chases, weak jokes and scenes so meandering they make "Saturday Night Live" look like a paragon of brevity and wit.

"Taxi" wants to be an opposites-attract buddy movie with a heart, so keeping the home fires burning are Henry Simmons as Belle's adoring studmuffin, Jesse, and Ann-Margret as Washburn's delirious lush of a mother. She gets to clutch her blender and say things like, "Mommy's getting the spins," while Fallon looks on sadly-but-lovingly.

Fallon's usual stunned deadpan doesn't do much for the part of a bumbling, mommy-fixated neurotic adult child of an alcoholic; and the usually wonderful Latifah (what is she doing here?) is reduced to counteracting his single note with just one of her own. She's sassy!

I was, I should say, mystified by a garbage-man character named Anthony Scalia. Was the confusing permutation of the conservative Supreme Court justice's first name meant to be sly? A pulled punch? Or just a mistake? With any luck (barring any sequels), we'll never know.



MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, sensuality and brief violence

Times guidelines: Vaguely sexual situations, some profanity

Jimmy Fallon...Andy Washburn

Queen Latifah...Belle Williams

Gisele Bundchen...Vanessa

Jennifer Esposito...Lt. Robbins

Ann-Margret...Mom Washburn

Twentieth Century Fox presents a Europacorp / Robert Simonds production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Tim Story. Produced by Luc Besson. Executive producers Robert Simonds, Ira Shuman. Screenplay by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf, based upon the film written by Luc Besson. Director of photography Vance Burberry. Editor Stuart Levy. Production designer Mayne Berke. Costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays. Music Christophe Beck. Art director Maria Baker. Set decorator Jackie Carr. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

In general release.

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