Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Taxi
USA (US-Fr) 2004 : Tim STORY : 97-100 mins
Acclaimed TV dramatist Jack Rosenthal died in May. Among his many notable credits was a 1979 feature-length play for ITV directed by Bob Brooks called The Knowledge, a dark-tinged comedy about a group of aspiring London cabbies who, as part of their entrance exam, must display encyclopaedic knowledge of the capital’s streets. It’s emphatically one of the best ever pieces of work about taxi drivers. The much better-known Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese from Paul Schrader’s remarkable script, is another. Michael Mann’s late-summer hit Collateral – based on Stuart Beattie’s somewhat rickety script – isn’t quite in that league, but it’s an interesting entrant into the sub-genre. Of course, Collateral, Taxi Driver and The Knowledge aren’t really about taxi-driving at all: they each explore interpersonal relationships, and what happens when they go wrong.
Tim Story’s Taxi is based on a script by Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf (pseudonymous author of The Hidden), which is itself a loose transplant of Luc Besson’s 1998 Euro-smash Taxi to New York (though some of it seems to have been filmed in distant Los Angeles). The taxi-driver is Belle, played by Queen Latifah (“exuding,” according to The Onion‘s Nathan Rabin, “near-toxic levels of sass”) who pelts around Manhattan in her souped-up yellow cab at speeds. This soon attracts the attention of the police, and via a route too circuitous to detail here she ends up helping out hopelessly incompetent officer Washburn (Jimmy Fallon) – whose driving skills are the low side of minimal – in his attempts to impress his ex-girlfriend Lieutenant (Jennifer Esposito) by tracking down a ruthless gang of bank-robbers. It isn’t giving anything away to say that said bank-robbers turn out to be a quartet of hyper-glamorous Brazilian models led by Vanessa (Gisele Bundchen) who, post-heist, slip into mufti by donning skimpily revealing beachwear.
By this stage it should be apparent that we’re a long way from the territory explored by Messrs Rosenthal, Schrader and Beattie. This is an unashamedly low-brow crowdpleaser whose humour is of a decidedly broad type. The target audience appears to be randy teenage lads (swearing is for the most part nimbly avoided – “shoot!” says Latifah when roused), and their slightly older frat-boy cousins: witness one remarkable scene in which the shapely Esposito (a fine actress on her day – which this isn’t) is frisked – slowly, and at some length – by the even shapelier Bundchen while various sweaty fat cops look on in barely concealed states of heightened libido.
At such moments, Taxi is so wildly stupid that it becomes amiably, unexpectedly engaging. And Latifah is much better served than her last outing opposite an uptight white guy, the embarrasingly offensive Bringing Down the House. But Fallon is, to put it mildly, no Steve Martin – though both made their names on TV sketch show Saturday Night Live, if Fallon’s shameless mugging in Taxi is any guide the show has gone steeply downhill since its 1970s heyday. Just when we thought we’d gotten rid of David Spade and Chris Kattan from our cinema screens, along comes Fallon who contrives to combine the worst aspects of both “stars” into one grindingly unfunny package.
25th October, 2004
[seen 8th October : Odeon, Nuneaton : press show – CinemaDays event]
by Neil Young