From the depths of high-concept hell comes Taxi, an American remake of a Luc Besson-penned international hit that feels stitched together from bits and pieces of lame '80s buddy-cop movies. Taxi's one contribution to its thankfully moribund genre is making one of its crime-stoppers a taxi driver (Queen Latifah, exuding near-toxic levels of sass) rather than a grizzled detective mere days away from retirement. In another slight deviation from formula, inept young cop Jimmy Fallon has a boss who isn't a gruff disciplinarian in the form of an older black man looking for a reason to take his badge away. Instead, she's a gruff disciplinarian in the form of an ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Esposito) looking for a reason to take his badge away.
A shotgun wedding between the typecast (Latifah) and the miscast (Fallon), Taxi has the two joining forces to foil a ring of bank-robbers led by supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Director Tim Story previously helmed the loose, lively Barbershop, and Taxi's script is credited in part to Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon of the often-hilarious, largely improvised Reno 911! That makes it all the more disappointing that Taxi doesn't have a spontaneous bone in its body. Story seems to have counted on his stars' chemistry to cover for the weaknesses in the script and plot, but Latifah and Fallon generate no sparks, while the latter looks overmatched and uncomfortable throughout in a role that obscures his strengths. Like a lot of Saturday Night Live alumni, he thrives on impersonating celebrities and otherwise disappearing into more colorful characters, something he did more memorably in a supporting role in Almost Famous. In his first big vehicle, Fallon gets stranded playing a second-generation copy of his stand-up persona, which suggests nothing so much as a poor man's Adam Sandler.
Done in by the wrong role, genre, and co-star, the Not Ready For The Big-Screen Player flails badly in a performance that suggests his handlers either have terrible taste in scripts, or are show-business Iagos conspiring furtively to kill Fallon's film career in its infancy. When it comes to proving he has the charisma and presence to be a leading man, he's more Dana Carvey than Eddie Murphy, and Taxi is more Clean Slate than Beverly Hills Cop. It remains to be seen whether Fallon can replicate Sandler's big-screen success. The fact that he's starting off with his own Bulletproof is a discouraging sign.