October 6, 2004
"Taxi," a bitingly awful buddy flick featuring metrosexual cops and supermodel bank robbers, manages to accelerate from zero to sheer idiocy in less time than it takes to roll the opening credits.
It starts out inoffensively enough, with X-Games-style action shots of a bike courier furiously pedaling through the streets of Manhattan, plunging through subway terminals, catching air off delivery vans.
Nimble and fearless, this BMX-bourne Baryshnikov slides back into headquarters and whips off his helmet to reveal . . .
Now, I won’t belabor the obvious — the obvious being that the buxom, Rubenesque Latifah is several hundred Double Whoppers removed from elite BMX trick-riding. What about simple dignity?
At 34, the grande dame of hip-hop is about a decade too ripe and one Oscar nomination ("Chicago") too talented to be messing around as Belle, a sexy young speed-junkie with dreams of NASCAR stardom.
Where was Beyonce Knowles when director Tim Story ("Barbershop") cast this role? Or Sanaa Lathan ("Love and Basketball")?
As it stands, watching Latifah play Belle is like watching Meryl Streep play a piece of eye candy in a Kevin Smith movie.
It turns out that Belle’s other dream is to collect fares in her own Crown Victoria taxicab, tricked-out with titanium superchargers and chrome racing pipes, which deploy and retract at the touch of a button.
Long story short, Belle’s cab is impounded by the city, and to get it back she has to team up with a bumbling cop (played by former "Saturday Night Live " cast member Jimmy Fallon) who needs her savvy driving skills to apprehend a quartet of sexy Brazilian superbabes (including one played by Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bundchen) who are robbing the city’s banks dry.
The cop, Washburn, is a pathetic little poseur. Incapable of operating a motor vehicle due to some vaguely explained childhood trauma, Washburn spends most of the movie being gleefully emasculated by Latifah’s character, who calls him "Ace Dumbtura" and plays keep-away with his police badge.
Washburn also takes grief from his ex-girlfriend and superior officer, Lt. Marta Robbins (Jennifer Esposito), who artlessly sums up the movie’s absurd premise by telling him, "You’re a good cop, but a terrible driver. What happened to you? "
Fallon struggles to find his comic identity in "Taxi," which was adapted from a Luc Besson-scripted 1998 French film of the same name. With his $80 haircut and vaguely self-amused ennui, he’s a new kind of organism: The gutless dandy as action star.
Not that Fallon gets any help from the script. Amazingly, it took three men — three professional screenwriters — to come up with the banal arrangement of pratfalls and alcoholic mom jokes that comprise the comedic substance of "Taxi."
Nor does "Taxi" bode well for Story, who had the benefit of a better script and a better cast on "Barbershop" and proves incapable of making up the difference here. It’ll be interesting to see if Story shores up the slow spots in next summer’s "Fantastic Four" adaptation with the same sage technique he uses in "Taxi": When all else fails — and it does — never hesitate to exploit your audience’s bottomless appetite for soft-core supermodel lesbianism.