on October 06, 2004 by Mark Keizer
"Taxi" seems less like a releasable movie and more like a dress rehearsal for a releasable movie, or the roadshow production of a dress rehearsal for a releasable movie. Although the film is too forgettable to negatively impact her future employment possibilities, it must be said that Queen Latifah, still living in the afterglow of her 2002 Oscar nomination for Chicago, should seriously know better. As for ex-SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon, "Taxi" is the wrong move in his quest for movie-star status. Although he does show promise as an angel-with-his-fingers-crossed, he's too slight to be a leading man. In the future, he should consider taking lesser roles with better directors in better movies, as he did in Woody Allen's "Anything Else." Director Tim Story (the likeable 2002 comedy "Barbershop") has yet to imbue a film with any real flavor or style and, when mixed with dialogue on the order of, "Stop him--he's getting away!", you've got a comedy so lightweight it almost ceases to exist.

Latifah plays Belle, a bike messenger who's finally realized her dream of buying her own taxi cab. Belle's swan song as a pedal-pusher is an unrealistically dangerous ride through Manhattan, which includes leaping over trucks and flying full-bore through Macy's. Her first fare as a cabbie asks her to drive from Times Square to JFK in 15 minutes, a concept so fantastical that it crosses over into science fiction. Anything goes as long as it's funny, assuming we're too busy laughing to care. Unfortunately, we're too busy not caring to laugh.

Jimmy Fallon plays Washburn, the worst police officer in New York. Destroying cars at the rate other cops write parking tickets, he keeps his job because the script requires him to, and because he used to date his boss, Lt. Robbins (Jennifer Esposito). Walking the streets after his latest departmental disaster, Washburn spies a bank robbery, jumps into Belle's cab and orders her to follow the getaway car. At this point, it should be mentioned that Belle's hack has been souped up to NASCAR standards, with retractable spoilers, turbochargers that emerge from the hood and a dashboard control panel that would look quite at home in the Batmobile.

The getaway car is occupied by four supermodels (including Page Six mainstay Gisele Bundchen) on a crime spree that involves knocking over Manhattan banks while disguised in men's suits. Washburn and Belle become unlikely allies in the hunt for the curvaceous criminals--Belle because she wants her impounded cab back, and Washburn because it'll rehabilitate his reputation with the NYPD.

Writers Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf's script is flat, with lame jokes that rely too much on the performer's ability to sell them. Belle and Washburn's investigation is barely up to the minimum standards of a cop comedy. Half-assed stabs at fleshing out the characters come in the form of Washburn's alcoholic mother and Belle's put-upon boyfriend. Washburn's mother is played by Ann-Margaret. Lord knows why she would take this role, but she does manage to give life to a lifeless movie. Belle's boyfriend is played by Henry Simmons, who is so superhunk handsome he seems a better match for one of the leggy bank robbers.

All would be forgiven if Latifah and Fallon were funny enough to convince us to overlook "Taxi's" considerable shortcomings. However, they never really click as a pair, although there is a cute scene where Belle teaches Washburn how to drive, with the help of Natalie Cole's "This Will Be." Still, no matter how fast they tap-dance, we still notice the house is on fire. Starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. Directed by Tim Story. Written by Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf. Produced by Luc Besson. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, sensuality and brief violence. Running time: 98 min

Tags: Starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. Directed by Tim Story. Written by Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, Jim Kouf, Produced by Luc Besson, Fox, Comedy

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