Monday, September 13, 2010

The original Taxi films

This piece is not on the remake starring Queen Latifah (though I do mention it), but the original quartet of films, three of which were made into the Queen Latifah film (seriously; they took parts of all three films and mashed them into one film). After the Latifah film went off the rails they made a fourth film, which isn't up to the standards of the first three, but is still a fun time with the characters. (A bit of trivia: the first three films co-star Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as the girlfriend of one of the stars). The Taxi films are wonderfully funny comedies, often politically incorrect, filled with belly laughs, great characters, cameos by big stars, and wonderful action set pieces. As a series they are probably the best comedies of the last ten years or so. They are also damn near impossible to see in the US since they have never gotten an official release in America in any form. They are available only as imports or grey market editions (Amazon does carry them). Why this is so eludes me since they are so damn funny. The best way to see the films is in order since the characters build from film to film. It also should be kept in mind that the films improve after the first film, which is very funny, but mostly seems like a set up for something better.

TAXI (1998)
This is the film that sets the series in motion. Daniel, a former pizza delivery guy and new taxi driver, ends up mixed up with a semi-failure cop Emilien after he gives the cop's Mom a ride. Emilien, who can't drive, has Daniel over a barrel thanks to many speeding infractions. Its a formula movie with some funny spots, but so much time is lost to set up, something the later films didn't need to do. How or why this spawned a sequel is beyond me, but I'm thankful because the next movie is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

TAXI 2 (2000)

The plot of the film has a Japanese minister coming to France and ending up kidnapped, with only our heroes to save him. It's a paper-thin and well-worn story. What's not paper thin is the action and humor which steps up everything up from the first film. I laughed so hard at some of this that I became sick. The cast is dead on perfect and most of the humor comes from the simple fact that the characters are so wonderful and fully drawn. See this movie. It's not perfect but is perfectly funny... and you'll never be able to hear the word Ninja again without laughing because of the memory of this film.

TAXI 3 (2003)
The plot has to do with a gang of thieves dressed as Santa pulling off a string of robberies. Its up to our klutzy cop and taxi driver to stop them. The plot here is just an excuse for a series of very funny set pieces, including the drug store scene in which Daniel tries to find out what a pregnancy tester is which had me on the floor. Forget the plot; not only will you be way way way ahead of everyone on screen, it ceases to make any sense two-thirds of the way in. Still as a comedy the film remains fall down funny to the end.

At this point Luc Besson decides that since none of the previous films have officially played America he'll remake the lot and release it with no indication of its source to American audiences...

The American Taxi (2004)
... with the result that Besson almost destroys his franchise by remaking the three French films as one movie. Seriously. I'm not kidding when I say that this a remake of the three French films. Although the film is mainly a poor remake of the the first film, it lifts sequences from the second and third films as well. It's a mess, a real mess. To me there was no real point to make this since anything that worked came from the originals.

The less said the better, and thankfully this is one of the few times it's better that the film REMAINS unseen.

Time passed and Besson decides to go back to the right well one more time...

TAXI 4 (2007)
Picking up several years after the last film, with the two buddies (Taxi driver Daniel and Cop Emilien) dealing with their own kids, as well as a Belgian super criminal that the police force is assigned to watch for 24 hours. Of course things go wrong and the criminal escapes, leading to assorted troubles along the way.

It's an amusing revisit with some good friends. More smile inducing than laugh out loud funny (though there are enough laughs to make it worth a trip), this is a rambling film that would have been better had it not been a Taxi film. Forgive me, the previous Taxi films have set a rather high bar for controlled insanity and car chases. Here there is insanity and silliness, but of a kinder, gentler sort. Other than the opening get-the-passenger-to-the-soccer-pitch there really aren't any car chases, and Daniel is given very little to do but be a dad...which is fine, but I really wanted another chase or two. Those wanting action scenes will not be disappointed by the over-the-top send-up of Scarface that ends the film, and provides the film with some solid laughs.

If you love to laugh you need to see these films.

I love them. I love them not just because the bits are funny but because Daniel and
Emilien are such good characters that you like them and care about them. You laugh because the humor is made funnier because you know and like the characters so the jokes have added resonance.

They need a proper US release since I'm tired of running down copies for friends. These, along with Rabbi Jacob, Brain Donors, and a few other films which I'll be getting to eventually are some of the most joyously funny films ever created. As I said Amazon e-sellers are selling the films and they are worth picking up.

I would love to have written more about the films but as with most character and situational comedy, especially when it's as funny as these films, you need to really see them. All I can do is point you toward the films; it's up to you to track them down and laugh yourself sick.

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