Taxi

Bringing Down the House notwithstanding, Queen Latifah is usually fun to watch. Fun-loving but no-nonsense, she has a way of seeming like the sanest presence onscreen — she’s up there reacting to the movie along with us. She drifts through Taxi more or less unscathed, rubbing her familiar persona up against that of Jimmy Fallon, who specializes, here as on Saturday Night Live, in boyish naïvete. As the inept New York detective Washburn, who can’t drive a car without disaster, Fallon manages some mild amusement — I enjoyed the way he handles what’s left of his badge after someone has taken a blowtorch to it. He and Latifah fall into a predictable dynamic — he does something stupid, she rolls her eyes and delivers some variation on “Crazy-ass white people.”

Latifah’s character — Belle, a cabbie with a cartoonishly souped-up car — at one point diagnoses Washburn’s problem: “You try too hard.” The same can’t be said of Taxi, a laid-back, inoffensive time-waster that doesn’t even try to make Gisele Bündchen look like a guy. Bündchen, the Brazilian supermodel, plays Vanessa, a Brazilian supermodel type who leads three other lookers on various bank robberies, disguising herself with a mustache. At least the first Charlie’s Angels came up with some unnervingly male make-up for Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore in their crossdressing scene, but never mind. The movie has a touching faith in mustaches as an all-purpose disguise; Washburn also wears one when going undercover as a Cuban thief. Surprisingly, Queen Latifah doesn’t get one.

Taxi is a remake of a French action-comedy smash hit (it has spawned two sequels) written by Luc Besson (The Professional), who gets a producing credit here. Fans of the original have cried “Sacrilege!”, as if this were a remake of Last Year at Marienbad starring Adam Sandler and Missy Elliott, but I daresay the French film is too high-concept to be considered violable by Hollywood. (Hell, I preferred the American remake Point of No Return to Besson’s own La Femme Nikita.) As directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four), this Taxi is fast and amiable idiocy, never stopping long enough for us to dwell on such questions as how Jennifer Esposito could possibly be a New York City police lieutenant or how Ann-Margret, as Washburn’s mom, stays upright after her fourth or fifth margarita.

One thing struck me as odd: Despite what you’ve seen in the trailers — Queen Latifah blowing a kiss at Gisele Bündchen and delivering an impressed “Damn!” when the supermodel thieves disrobe — her character is steadfastly hetero, with a neglected boyfriend (Henry Simmons) who shuffles around the movie’s margins waiting for her to show up. Why would the trailer set Belle up as a lesbian when nothing could be further from the movie’s reality? (In the movie, her “Damn!” is in response to the villains’ speedy work behind the wheel.) In any event, admirers of Sapphic subtexts won’t totally be let down, as there’s a gratuitous scene where Bündchen frisks Esposito while a bunch of cops’ jaws hit the pavement.

Taxi is a standard buddy movie right down to the floor, in which the two temperamentally opposed protagonists learn to respect each other grudgingly, though without the romantic/sexual tension you might expect of a male/female team-up. It’s a summer movie unaccountably marooned in October, when we’re supposed to start getting more adult fare. If you want a more substantive film concerning four female robbers and starring Queen Latifah, now’s the time for me to point you towards 1996’s Set It Off; if you want a funnier film involving a “Weekend Update” anchor, go rent Tina Fey’s Mean Girls; if you want this same material probably done with more panache, you could do worse than the original French Taxi, if your DVD player can handle discs from other countries. Failing all that, you can always watch this Taxi next time it turns up on cable.

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