TAXI

PG-13
Reviews

Luc Besson's 1998 buddy comedy Taxi was, worldwide, the highest-grossing French film ever; it spawned two sequels, also in French, and has now 'inspired' an American remake-produced by none other than Besson himself.

To immediately quell any curiosity, the new Taxi bears little resemblance to the original. Yes, it does star a couple of goofy guys who engage in some wild car chases through the congested traffic of city streets. However, in this Hollywood version, one of the 'guys' is a gal, the city is New York, not Paris, and the goings-on are neither very exciting nor terribly funny.

It probably seemed like a good idea to team up Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon, both gifted performers-in their chosen realms-and both with a secure fan base. Latifah plays Belle, a NASCAR-driver wannabe, who goes from being the world's fastest bike messenger to driving the world's fastest New York City taxi, which is equipped with a titanium super-charger and other illegal Bond-car devices. Fallon (the former "Saturday Night Live" anchor in his feature starring debut) is Washburn, a bumbling cop who is especially inept and dangerous behind the wheel, but seems to have a knack for stumbling upon crimes in progress. It's the role-reversal thing, see? She's the strong, silent capable type; he's the helpless flibbertigibbet.

Washburn, who's had his driver's license revoked, meets Belle when he flags down her cab to take him to a bank robbery. They arrive just in time to see four tall masked robbers drive off in their souped-up BMW. Thus the chase begins. The same quartet-all of whom, incongruously, are gorgeous, leggy Brazilians (led by the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen)-keeps robbing banks and their getaway car keeps getting away from Belle and Washburn's taxi, though not without some inventively choreographed passing maneuvers.

Any subplots to break up the pedal-to-the-metal action stuff? Well, yes. Belle has a long-suffering boyfriend (Henry Simmons); Washburn is engaged in an on-and-off relationship with his precinct lieutenant (Jennifer Esposito), and Ann-Margret pops up at odd and embarrassing moments as Washburn's dizty, drunken mom. Is any of this as hilarious as it's supposed to be? No, although there are a few amusing moments-as when Belle and Washburn get overcome by laughing gas and start talking basso profundo.

The two stars do spark some chemistry together, but neither Latifah nor Fallon shines very brightly. Both the script and the director unfortunately get them stuck in shtick.

-Shirley Sealy