(Tim Story, USA, 2004)


This American remake of Luc Besson's amusing action film (which has already spawned two sequels in its homeland of France) bravely offers itself, in the words of one its producers, as a "deconstructed role-reversal comedy".

Its formula, however, is not too hard to crack. Director Tim Story's version changes the male-buddy element of the original so as to create a role for the sublime Queen Latifah in the driver's seat. But the rapport between taxi master Belle and bumbling cop Andy (Jimmy Fallon from Saturday Night Live) very much follows the model set down by the Rush Hour films. Even the chief writer of that series, Jim Kouf, is brought in to spice up this script.

To put it bluntly, Belle is the queen of black cool, while Andy is a thoroughly unfunky white man. He is thus in the Jackie Chan position in Rush Hour, in dire need of style advice, not to mention singing, dancing and jive-talk lessons. Such a premise can quickly become tiresome, but Taxi manages well to integrate the running jokes into the forward thrust of the narrative.

After a slow start which takes too long establishing Andy's fragile position in the police force and the testy relationship with his ex-lover, Marta (Jennifer Esposito, pissed off and bossy as in The Master of Disguise [2002]), Taxi warms up the moment Belle hits the road. This surprisingly well-plotted heist caper has a zany bunch of Brazilian supermodels as the villains, led by Vanessa (Gisele Bündchen).

It is fascinating to observe the way this film perilously see-saws between the values of legality and illegality. Belle has a standard, workaday job, but secretly hots up her car to an extent way beyond the law. Once Andy gives her license to do whatever she must to aid in pursuit of the elusive, quick-change criminals, she gleefully breaks every road rule burning around New York.

Belle's long-term goal is boringly mainstream – to be a racing-car champ. But whenever the movie gets near such a dull sight, it cuts away immediately. In cinema, no matter what message of community integration is ostensibly preached, it is only the anti-social thrills that count.

MORE Story: Fantastic Four

MORE Besson: Joan of Arc, Léon: The Professional, Transporter 2, Unleashed, The Fifth Element

© Adrian Martin November 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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