Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.
What's the big deal?
Taxi is an action comedy film released in 2004 and is a remake of the 1998 French film of the same name written by Luc Besson. Directed by Tim Story, the film depicts an uneasy alliance between an incompetent NYPD officer and a talented taxi driver in her pimped-out cab as they try to apprehend a group of bank robbers. The film stars Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Gisele Bündchen, Jennifer Esposito and Henry Simmons. Although the film is a remake, it relocates the setting from Marseille in France to New York despite most of the filming taking take place in Los Angeles. Critics slammed the film when it was released for being unfunny and insulting to audience's intelligence and it only managed to earn $68.9 million worldwide - not that much more than the French original. Unlike the French Taxi film, this American version has been followed by no sequels whatsoever.
What's it about?
Belle Williams is a born speed-freak, dreaming of becoming a NASCAR driver while working as a bicycle courier in New York. On her last day, she is presented with a supercharger for her pet project - a tricked out, custom-built 1999 Ford Crown Victoria with which she intends to become a taxi driver in the city. Unfortunately, she is so busy installing more custom parts to her car that she forgets about a romantic dinner with her boyfriend Jesse. Across town, undercover NYPD officer Andrew "Andy" Washburn not only blows his cover during a raid but crashes his partner's car who is then wounded in a shoot-out with the escaping criminals. His boss and former girlfriend Lt. Marta Robbins grows tired of Washburn's bumbling and takes away his driving licence before assigning him to foot patrol duties.
After hearing about a nearby bank robbery in progress, Washburn attempts to flag down a car with his badge but is unable to do so. Instead, he hitches a ride with Belle in her taxi. As her car transforms into the barely legal street racer she has created, Washburn realises that he has to commandeer the vehicle if he hopes to catch the robber. But Belle and Washburn don't exactly get on...
Isabelle "Belle" Williams
Andrew "Andy" Washburn
Lt. Marta Robbins
Ana Christina de Oliveria
Redhead (Second Robber)
Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon & Jim Kouf*
Release Date (UK)
19th November, 2004
Action, Comedy, Crime
What's to like?
The original French version had several things going for it: a bright and sunny setting, decent comedic banter between the two lead characters (who were both male, interestingly), stunning driving sequences largely free from CG and a young pre-stardom Marion Cottilard as the girlfriend of cabbie Daniel. This version of Taxi has none of those things. New York isn't anywhere near as pretty as Marseille and certainly hasn't a road network as interesting, populated as it is with long and very straight roads. Fallon and Latifah struggle to make an impact with a script as brainless as this although Latifah does have the more enjoyable narrative and delivers the better performance. Unfortunately, they seem to work about as well together as fire and a dry forest. The driving sequences are dull and composed of so many cuts that the screen flashes from wheel to passenger to bonnet to brakes to wheel again to other cars... and so on. And while Simmons went on to do well for himself as a member of Agents Of SHIELD on TV, he's not Cottilard who is much more agreeable in general.
On the plus side, the film retains the same goofy narrative as the original which includes its horrifically out-dated and sexist portrayal of its female characters - bar Latifah. I remember thinking that Luc Besson had written the original film to spoof American action movies and judging by this film, he did. The sole positive, if I can call it that, is the extremely picturesque Bündchen as the ringleader of the bank robbers. While the role requires little in the way of acting ability (which still proves too much for Mrs Tom Brady), her endless legs and permanent pout are doubtless what Besson had in mind for the character. Otherwise, you can file this film under "so bad, it's funny".
- Ingrid Vanderbosch, who plays one of the bank robbers, is married in real life to NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon who also appears in the film in a cameo.
- After the film's failure, another attempt to remake the French original was made albeit as a TV show. Taxi Brooklyn was a twelve-part series which relocated the first film's story from France to New York although only the pilot followed the plot of the film. Originally broadcast in 2014, it was cancelled after just one season.
- Among the film's less-than-stellar reviews was a lament by Roger Ebert that Latifah, who has been appearing in films since 1991, could have instead appeared in a zero-budget indie drama with Oscar potential for the cost of just one of the movie's crash scenes? He described the film as "something that could not be good, was never going to be good, and only gets worse as it plows along".
What's not to like?
So why is this film such a car-crash? It starts with the script which is an ugly blend of unfunny scenes, uninspired action and an insulting level of intelligence. The film treats you like an easily distracted toddler, throwing noisy and incoherent scenes at you that are so painfully bad that you wonder who authorised their release. Fallon is astonishingly bad in the film which doesn't help him by making his character go "full retard", as described in Tropic Thunder. He is as unlikely a NYPD officer as the Predator and the film simply never recovers from this woeful piece of casting. And why change the gender dynamic at the film's core - are we supposed to think that these two diametrically opposed characters are gonna fall for each other, despite Belle already having a boyfriend? Obviously Washburn is single because he's the sort of guy to go back to his parent's house and cry himself to sleep each night.
The driving scenes are so obviously fake that there is never a hint of excitement to them, flooded with more CG than the original The Fast And The Furious. And of course, the central premise of a bicycle courier in New York being able to afford the sort of pimped speed machine that Inspector Gadget can only dream of is as ridiculous as the rest of the movie. Why do supermodels feel the need to rob banks? Where is the rest of the traffic in New York - or, for that matter, stop signs or road works or speed cameras? Why is everybody in this film so stupid? But most damning of all, who decided that this moronic excuse of a comedy would entertain anybody other than people who enjoy films of a truly disastrous quality? This film is less fun than being locked in a boot.
Should I watch this?
The only reason anyone has for watching this wretched excretion of a film is for proving why Jimmy Fallon should stay on his late night talk show. And I always preferred Stephen Colbert anyway...
Great For: emptying cinemas, anyone with the mental age of a six-year-old, the Blu-ray makes a good frisbee
Not So Great For: furthering careers, any fans of the French original, anyone who can tie their own shoelaces
What else should I watch?
Even if you hate reading subtitles and dislike the French, you are still better off with the original 1998 version of Taxi which shows far more imagination in the action scenes and has better comedy thanks to the banter between Samy Naceri and Frédéric Diefenthal. Both men were mainstays of the Taxi series through until 2018's Taxi 5 which acts as a reboot with an entirely new cast but much the same style.
Taxi has been seen as the start of a trend of films featuring high-speed, realistic driving scenes taking place in France. The same year, Robert De Niro and Jean Reno appeared in the under-rated Ronin which was widely lauded for its driving sequences, this time in Nice and Paris. Not to be outdone, Besson scripted another action film inspired by vehicular mayhem - The Transporter features Jason Statham in possibly his first ever action role and while it's no classic, it's still worth a look. Finally, one film that certainly is a classic is the amnesiac-spy thriller The Bourne Identity which delivered even more driving destruction on the streets of Paris. It might not be as well known for its driving scenes as the others but the film's quality, excitement and intrigue make it far more enjoyable than any of the other films mentioned here.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox