Taxi (2004) Review
Lost in a sea of blockbuster movies, Taxi was never going to make a name for itself. And it didn’t, dying a slow death at the multiplex. Most people were probably unaware that Tim Story’s “comedy” is a loose remake of the cult classic from 1998. Written by Luc Besson, the film was a minor gem - a no-brainer action comedy that made up for its shortcomings with plenty of car chases, and an odd sense of humour (odd meaning French). Due to its rising status on rental shelves everywhere, an American update seemed like the way to go. Discarding Besson’s loopy sensibilities, 2004’s version is running on empty; a tired, plodding mess of a movie that loses sight of what made the original so enjoyable. In other words, the French did it better.
Here, the story has been changed significantly, replacing Marseilles with New York - the first sign that Taxi is far from original. Officer Washburn (SNL regular Jimmy Fallon) is a dim-witted cop, whose terrible driving skills are infamous. With his license revoked, Washburn's pursuit of four female bank robbers, leads him to the cab of Belle (Queen Latifah), a feisty driver whose souped-up taxi beats anything seen in The Fast and the Furious. Things get off to a bad start when the robbers escape, and Belle’s cab is impounded. But Washburn isn’t deterred. Can they put aside their differences and save the day? Gee, I think they might...
On paper, Taxi seems like a sure-fire hit. Unfortunately, the screenplay and direction is sloppy and unfocused, with the film shifting gear frequently. Story can’t decide if he’s making an action movie, a buddy detective story, or a light-hearted comedy. First of all, the film is light on action - almost too light for a studio picture - and is usually followed by “bonding” scenes between Fallon and Latifah, which grind the pace to a spectacular halt. There’s too much here that feels like filler, with scenes passing by that offer little to the narrative or audience enjoyment. Had Story concentrated solely on car chases, Taxi might have been a solid guilty pleasure, but it’s just too mundane and dull for long stretches of celluloid. The cinematography and editing is colourful and zippy, but the studio gloss merely helps to reveal Taxi’s empty shell.
It doesn’t help that the characters are so uninteresting. Wasburn is a bumbling idiot, and much like Frank Spencer, causes disaster wherever he goes. We’ve seen this stereotype a million times before, but in Fallon’s hands, the comedy often falls flat. Despite his stand-up street cred, Fallon is a dull presence here, and he doesn’t have the gravitas to headline a motion picture. He’s no action hero either, with the script sending Washburn through a new pratfall every 15 minutes. In most respects, this is Latifah’s movie, and she steals every scene. Her comedic timing is better, helping to give the film some throwaway value (although it’s heartbreaking to chart Latifah’s career from the Oscar-winning Chicago to this). Fallon and Latifah are amiable as a double act, but it’s the script that drags them down. It’s derivative and episodic, giving its heroes little to do but stand around and yap. In most respects, you just want Story to cut to the chase, and leave the sparring alone.
With the lead characters so poorly sketched, there’s no hope for the supporting cast, who merely go through the motions. The only surprise I had, was seeing Christian Kane, who TV fans might remember from Angel. His role goes nowhere, but then again, he isn’t a “name” actor. Which is why the casting of Jennifer Esposito is pretty baffling. She’s wasted as Washburn’s improbably good-looking superior; merely peppered throughout the script to act as eye candy (but great eye candy, it must be said). Speaking of which, model Gisele Bundchen provides plenty of entertainment value for male viewers, as the leader of those impossibly sexy bank robbers. Super models as criminals? Genius!
So, what of the action? It’s decent, saving Taxi from total mediocrity. Story shows some skill when it comes to set pieces - the chase scenes are pretty impressive, making efficient use of the New York backdrop. The taxi of the title (which incidentally, is off-screen for far too long) dodges traffic left and right at dizzying speeds, allowing for quick bursts of excitement between the boring slapstick skits. Story tosses logic out of the window for several fun vignettes; especially the bridge-jump (which you’ve seen in the trailer). That said, there’s nothing here that marks Story as a talent to watch. He certainly didn’t deserve the directing gig on The Fantastic Four, which may or may not be a total failure. Only time will tell...
Taxi misses the mark as a comedy, failing to capitalise on the charm of its stars. It’s also amazingly slow for an action picture, with few of the kinetic thrills that its title suggests. Even in the longer cut (available on this disc), Story’s film is a colossal-sized disappointment, which barely passes as acceptable popcorn fare. Without a fresh angle to portray the chase sequences, and with no interesting characters to represent, the film simply flounders to grab our attention. Put simply, Taxi is a long ride to nowhere.
As you can probably tell, I didn’t appreciate the film, so I wasn’t looking forward to assessing the DVD. When I finally got around to it, I realised that Fox’s treatment of Taxi is well above-average - it’s a quality edition, but it won’t change your view of the movie. In fact, it made me hate it even more - there was a lot of talent that went to waste here...
The Look and Sound
Taxi is definitely a car wreck, but the crew delivered a good-looking one, that’s for sure. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is not to be sniffed at, and although it pales in comparison to other studio releases, it’s a solid effort indeed. Despite the New York setting, the colour palette is pretty impressive - bright, varied, and constantly changing (the image handles light and dark well, so no clarity is lost during the night-time scenes.) The yellows of the cab leap from the screen, and everything about this transfer is vibrant. The image is vivid and clean, without being overly-sharp. Detail was high though, as you’d expect from a recent film. Still, the transfer isn’t perfect. Edge haloes crop up from time to time, and I noticed a few spots of compression. Most viewers won’t notice, but it stood out for me. Nit-picking aside, this is a great-looking flick.
Comedy isn’t well-known for delivering loud sonic mixes, but Taxi boasts a few action scenes that promise a lot. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty busy, but still sporadic in terms of surround activity. Only the chase sequences come alive; the rest of the film is more pedestrian and certainly low-key. In other words, it’s not a very dynamic mix, but it’s still commendable. Dialogue is crisp and clearly rendered (whether you want to hear it or not), and the music is sharp (unfortunately, you might not want to hear that either.) Still, the track is more than adequate. Fox also provide Dolby Surround tracks in Spanish and French.
These were great. Animated with anamorphic-enhancement, they move quickly, and function like a finely-tuned Ferrari. As the disc loads, you get the choice of either the “Extended” or “Theatrical” cut, though each menu looks the same. With some fun transitions, they get the job done; boasting more panache than the entire film.
The movie under-performed at the box office on either side of the Atlantic, so I wasn’t expecting much. However, Fox have kindly provided some materials for fans to savour. I say “fans” with a sarcastic smirk, of course...
Audio Commentary by director Tim Story
Mildly entertaining, this track from Story could have been better, but provides plenty of background insight. There are some dead spots, but Story just about manages to hold the interest; discussing the script, casting, the reasons for remaking the French film, and how he went about staging the chase sequences. The director states that he tried to make a hipper and funnier film than the Besson picture, and comes close to admitting defeat. Clearly, he’s much more enthusiastic about the end result than audiences.
These look pretty good - a fact which doesn’t compensate for their quality. We get Fallon pratting around in a copper uniform, Latifah indulging in a police line-up, and more hijinks on the road. They’re utterly forgettable, but included here for posterity, if nothing else.
The Metres Runnin’: Making Taxi
A fairly lengthy featurette, this shows plenty of behind-the-scenes wizardry. It’s yet another chance for Fallon to show how remarkably unfunny he is, despite his genial presence. Latifah is much more interesting, with some fun comments here and there (especially her first crack at a conventional screen romance.) Naturally, the director and key crew members chip in too, yet the featurette is light on significant detail. Footage of the chase scenes is better, and any more screen time with those lovely super models is no bad thing. It’s all here if you need it.
Lights, Camera, Bluescreen
A light and frothy look at CGI mayhem, which was implemented in several of the cab sequences. The Visual Effects Supervisor (whose name escapes me) explains how the blue screen footage is combined with on-location, second unit footage. Neato.
The remaining extras of the disc are filler. “Tour Guide: Jimmy Fallon” is five minutes of the ‘comedian’ strolling about the studios and making random jokes. There’s the customary “Inside Look” from Fox, documenting the latest stinker from Martin Lawrence, and finally, the theatrical trailer.
It’s no secret - Taxi is a terrible movie; skidding off the road into on-coming traffic. It doesn’t work as a comedy or an action movie, with only a handful of scenes that manage to amuse. In fact, stick with the original (or the sequel for that matter), which offer more entertainment value than this sorry effort. Fox’s DVD provides their usual quality, but it’s all for nout. This Taxi is nothing but scrap metal. Avoid.