TAXI - DVD review

Taxi is one long car chase, which quickly crashes and burns.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Finally, a 2004 release worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with "Scooby-Doo 2," "Torque," "Species III," "White Chicks," and "New York Minute." Without a doubt, "Taxi" is among the elite, truly one of the worst films of the year.

How bad is "Taxi"? How bad do you want it to be? The DVD gives you two versions: the regular theatrical version clocking in at 97 minutes and a new extended version at 104 minutes. So, you get bad and worse than bad on the same disc.

"Taxi" is one of those films that tries to combine the merest semblance of realism with pure farce and fails on both counts. I mean, in some comedies the humor springs naturally from the main characters' circumstances or from the characters' witty repartee. A contemporary romantic comedy like Will Smith's "Hitch" comes to mind. In other movies, the humor springs from the total ineptness of a central figure. A character like Inspector Clouseau, for example, is a bumbler who continues to muddle everything he does, yet he rises in the world. A few politicians also spring to mind. But in "Taxi" the main characters are so witless, we don't so much laugh as pity them.

The movie stars Queen Latifah ("Bringing Down the House") and Jimmy Fallon ("Saturday Night Live"). Although Latifah is listed first in the credits, it's really Fallon's movie to make or break. He breaks it. He plays a New York City undercover cop who is such an idiot he can't even drive a car. Yet they give him a badge. Clouseau and the characters from "Car 54, Where Are You?" look like Einsteins compared to Fallon's character, Andy Washburn. Here's a sample: Washburn is driving his mother's car because he has wrecked his own. He's parallel parked with about six feet of room between him and the car ahead and the car behind. He backs up and smashes into the car behind him. Unfazed, he pulls forward without turning the steering wheel and smashes into the car ahead of him. Then, for reasons unknown, he backs up again without turning the wheel, and again he smashes into the car behind him. This goes on for what seems like an eternity, while the audience wonders what on earth the filmmakers thought might have been funny. The Washburn character does not come off like an Inspector Clouseau, someone who's a loveable blunderer; instead, he comes off like someone who's mentally challenged. To laugh at him would be like laughing at Lennie in "Of Mice and Men." It just isn't done. Yet for reasons completely beyond me, it's expected of us to laugh in this film.

Queen Latifah plays a cab driver, Belle Williams. She sets the tone for the movie at the very beginning when we see her working for a bicycle messenger service and setting a crosstown speed record on her bike. She literally flies over the countryside, running over the tops of automobiles and leaping vast distances between buildings, all to the accompaniment of pop singer Beyonce Knowles's "Crazy in Love." The whole sequence is totally ridiculous, even for a silly slapstick comedy like this. It's filled with energy and motion for no purpose other than to make the viewer say, "Come on, nobody could do that." What's the point if it's not funny? Then we learn it's Belle's last day with the messenger service because she's finally been granted a city cab driver's license. Later we learn she has seventy-five moving violations on her record, but the city grants her a cabbie's license? Her ambition is to be a NASCAR race driver, and because she's also a genius at auto mechanics, she has equipped her new cab with all kinds of supercharged options that put 007's Aston-Martin to shame. What are the odds?

A quick reminder to filmmakers: Car chases and car crashes have been around since the silent days of movie comedies, and unless something new can be added, they are no longer amusing. "Taxi" is one long car chase, which quickly crashes and burns.

The plot involves Washburn pursuing four bank robbers and commandeering Belle's cab in the process. The robbers turn out to be beautiful women (led by supermodel Gisele Bundchen), who strip to bikinis at one point. Any reason for this? You figure it out. Washburn's boss is his ex-girlfriend, Lt. Marta Robbins (Jennifer Esposito). She gets so disgusted with him, she first takes his driver's license away (expecting him to carry out his police duties on foot) and then kicks him off the force. The latter move is the only sensible one in the picture.

The movie is so heavy-handed it can't even find a use for the talented Ann-Margret. She plays Washburn's drunken mother. That's it. She's supposed to be an adorable, quirky drunk, but in every scene she's in, she comes off simply as a deplorable lush. A waste.

I suppose I shouldn't even mention that "Taxi" is based on a 1998 French film of the same name by writer/producer/director Luc Besson, a film that was so popular it spawned two sequels. This is not one of them. Nor should I mention that between 1932 and 2004 there were some twenty movies produced with the title "Taxi." So, if you're looking for a good ride, you might want to look elsewhere; you have plenty of choices.

There is no semblance of sense to this American remake. It follows the three-second-edit rule. No shot lasts longer than three seconds because it has no trust in its audience's attention span. Boom, boom, cut; boom, boom, cut. Bullets fly, things blow up, cars crash. People keep taking Washburn's badge away from him. And he's such a klutz, he can't sleep at night without falling out of bed. "Taxi" is one heck of a taxing ride.

The movie follows a well-established tradition in DVD transfers, which demands that the worse the film is, the better it should look. "Taxi" is, therefore, transferred to disc in a very wide scope, measuring a ratio approximately 2.13:1 across my standard-screen Sony HD television; it is anamorphic, enhanced for 16x9 TVs; and it utilizes an exceptionally high bit rate. This careful attention to detail results in deep, solid colors, excellent object delineation, and virtually no grain. If anything, though, the colors are too bright to look natural, probably an intentional gimmick to give the film the appearance of a cartoon. It succeeds. The film looks like an unfunny cartoon.

The audio is reproduced via Dolby Digital 5.1 processing and does exactly what it's called upon to do. Its strongest point is an ultrawide front stereo spread, some of the sounds extending well beyond the boundaries of the left and right speakers. There is not much deep bass, but mid bass is plenty blaring, as is most of the soundtrack. The rear channels, however, are supplied with surprisingly little information--a few squealing tires here and there and the faintest musical ambiance reinforcement. It seems another wasted opportunity.

The movie comes, as I mentioned earlier, in two versions on the same disc: the regular theatrical version with a length of 97 minutes and a new, extended version at 104 minutes. Moreover, one of the disc's major extras is an audio commentary by director Tim Story, which, unfortunately, is only available on the theatrical version. Since I watched the extended version, it meant that in order to hear any part of the commentary, I had to go back and watch parts of the film over again (rather than listening intermittently during my first viewing). Understandably, I was not too keen on listening to the entire commentary. In what I did listen to, however, Story tells us we shouldn't take the film too seriously; a master of understatement. Later, he admits he had never seen the movie in finished form with a normal audience, so he's "not exactly sure if it worked or not." Should we tell him?

In addition to the commentary, there are four deleted scenes, which are very quick bits and at least as funny as anything in the film, which isn't saying much. So why weren't they included in the extended version? Maybe because then there wouldn't be anything left over to include in the DVD extras? Then, there's a twenty-minute featurette, "The Meter's Running: The Making of Taxi," which is mostly promotional; a five-minute promotional featurette, "Lights, Camera, Blue Screen," that shows us some of the film's CGI work; another five-minute promotional featurette, "Tour Guide Jimmy Fallon," in which the comic takes us through the studio and jokes around; and a two-minute promotional featurette, "Beautiful Criminals," that reprises some scenes of the lovely bank robbers. After those little promos is a twenty-minute promotional feature from Comedy Central, "Reel Comedy: Taxi"; followed by an "Inside Look" promo at the movie "Rebound." Finally, there are promotional trailers for "The Sandlot 2" and "American Dad"; twenty-four scene selections for the theatrical version of the movie and forty scene selections for the extended version, with scenes containing added material marked with asterisks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles.

Not only are the extras extended and the video excellent, the packaging is deluxe as well. The keep case contains a paper insert listing chapters and bonus items, and case comes housed in a colorful, shiny, embossed slip cover.

Parting Shots:
Watching "Taxi" for 104 minutes was painful. Watching it for 97 minutes might have lessened the pain, but I doubt it. Among all the extras on the disc, I could find no trailer for "Taxi," but I imagine that if I had, it would have been just about as much as I would have liked seeing of this film. Loud noise and sheer idiocy do not equate with humor in any of my frames of reference.


Film Value