Jimmy Fallon was funny behind the SNL Update desk when playing co-anchor with Tina Fey. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to bring any of Fey’s writing talent, or his chemistry with her into his first big screen project, Taxi. Instead he’s stuck bumbling his way around next to Queen Latifah, who after Chicago I thought might actually be talented, but since then has gone out of her way to prove that she isn’t. Still, she’s got twice the presence of Fallon, who at times nearly disappears next to her. He suffers the same problem when standing next to any of the other beauties populating Taxi, like his police lieutenant played by the stunning Jennifer Esposito.
If he stands out at all, it’s only because he’s wearing more makeup than his female co-stars, which probably isn’t a good thing. He’s the ultimate metro-sexual detective, coated in product and no doubt reeking of vanilla scented body lotion. The extremely heavy makeup is appropriate since Jimmy has about as much screen presence as a mime, and in fact we’d all probably better off if he’d adopt mime philosophy and stop blabbering.
Remade from a French action-comedy, Taxi thrusts Fallon into the role of an inept detective with the world’s worst driving record. It’s not that he’s reckless; the guy just flat out doesn’t know how to drive. After ramming his Grand Am into a fruit stand and killing his partner’s pet parrot, his frustrated police lieutenant and ex-love interest (Esposito) is forced to take away his license. Eager to prove himself, Fallon responds to a bank heist in progress by taking a taxi to the scene of the crime. The taxi is driven by Latifah, who just happens to have turned her taxi into a mega-cool, ultra-fantastic, amazing transformer super-cab; sort of a taxi version of the Batmobile. Flip a button and a big engine pops up, cool rims appear, a spoiler flips out and she’s driving a souped up hot rod. Fallon has stumbled onto the perfect car for chasing bank robbers, and so he coerces Latifah into playing crook chasing chauffer.
Lame plot devices abound in Taxi, a movie which can never seem to decide if it’s absurd by design or accident. Is it some sort of parody, or a serious attempt at making a cop buddy comedy? The film’s flaccid script seems unable to choose and so we’re left floundering around between flat jokes looking for irony. Bad writing makes it impossible to care about Fallon’s character and so we’re never invested in him enough to take his path to redemption seriously. Sure, Fallon chatters almost constantly, but he never seems to be saying anything. The movie repeatedly screeches to a halt for forced, quirky character moments (like Fallon singing Natalie Cole songs in falsetto) but these are no substitute for genuine depth. Instead Taxi languishes in comedically awkward moments that drag on too long, extended sequences with characters simply sitting, staring, and engaging in conversations that are supposed to be funny but aren’t. Awkwardness itself can only get so many giggles before it becomes tiresome, yet looking uncomfortable is just about all Fallon and Latifah bring to the picture.
Taxi could have redeemed itself by focusing on great stunt chases, but the film doesn’t actually spend enough time in the car to really get the most out of these. Much of the stunt driving is confined to the beginning and end of the film. Some of the external shots are quite good, but the blue screen work on Latifah and Fallon inside the car is often so bad that it makes it impossible to believe even for a second that it was actually Queen Latifah behind the wheel.
Weak and confused though Taxi may be, it isn’t a total disaster. There are a couple of chuckles and Anne Margret steps in to steal scenes as Fallon’s hilarious drunken mother. The musical cues are sharp and Jennifer Esposito sparkles on screen like she’s auditioning for a better movie. Director Tim Story’s disinterest in convincing stunt work notwithstanding, the few chases there are prove fun as is the idea of smoking hot Brazilian supermodels as the world’s perfect car driving criminals.
So maybe Jimmy Fallon deserves at least some credit for making his first big screen adventure something separate from SNL. We could have been cursed with a Jimmy Fallon/Chris Kattan movie version of the “Speed Skating Hitler” sketch from Weekend Update. Thanks Jimmy for saving us from that.