Originally created 10/07/04

At the Movies: 'Taxi'



Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon's cop romp "Taxi" is a cinematic reflection of a cab ride to the airport in rush hour, start-stop traffic: Long periods of immobility punctuated by the occasional lively lurch forward.

Your driver's yammering shrilly on his cell phone. Between calls, he turns and tosses a mildly amusing quip toward the back seat before dialing again and resuming his chatter. And you're checking the time, watching the meter tick, thinking, I'm paying good money for this?

"Taxi" is a seriously disappointing followup for director Tim Story, who made an impressive debut with 2002's "Barbershop." Based on the 1998 French flick of the same name that was written by Luc Besson (who also produces the remake), "Taxi" is substandard issue in the mismatched buddy comedy genre.

The jokes are lame save for an odd wisecrack and sight gag, the characters are cliches, while the car chases and other action are tediously repetitive, from lack of either finesse or experience by Story and his crew.

As for the potentially merry pairing of the two leads, let's just say Jamie Foxx as a cabbie struggling for his life and Tom Cruise as a bloodthirsty assassin in "Collateral" had far more comic chemistry than Latifah's taxi driver and Fallon's bungling cop.

Latifah is Belle Williams, a flashy New York cabbie with an even flashier taxi, decked out with enough speed-enhancement gadgets to make James Bond jealous.

Fallon's an idiot-savant, without that savant part. An eager undercover cop who inevitably botches every operation, Fallon's detective Andy Washburn commandeers Belle's taxi to chase after four female bank robbers so gorgeous their wanted posters could land on the cover of Vogue.

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen makes her acting debut as Vanessa, the leader of the thieving quartet. She looks great, acts terribly, but the script is tailored more to her legs than her dramatic talents.

Bundchen's only interesting moment comes with a gratuitously lewd scene in which she frisks, at length, co-star Jennifer Esposito, who plays Washburn's ex, now his long-suffering lieutenant. The sequence belongs in a highlights reel of Hollywood guilty pleasures for 2004.

Vanessa's three cohorts also look great but are so inconsequential they don't even have names.

With the cheer of the affable drunk, Ann-Margret enlivens her few moments in "Taxi" as Washburn's boozy mother, who's apparently never met a blender she didn't like.

Latifah and Fallon each have individual moments where their comic charm shines through. Together, though, the two are often awkward, their dialogue playing like the uncertain exchanges of actors feeling each other out in an audition reel.

The instantly forgettable "Taxi" is a major misfire for Latifah and Fallon, both trying to establish big-screen careers in starring roles.

Fallon, recently departed from "Saturday Night Live," has better prospects with next year's Farrelly brothers comedy "Fever Pitch," in which he co-stars with Drew Barrymore.

Latifah has been on a solid rise to top billing with "Bringing Down the House," her Academy Award-nominated turn in "Chicago," and a feisty bit in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business." Next year's "Beauty Shop," her "Barbershop" spinoff, will be Latifah's real test as lead player.

"Taxi," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for language, sensuality and brief violence. Running time: 97 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.