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Taxi

Published: Friday, Oct. 8 2004 8:26 a.m. MDT

Based on the most popular French comedy in history (and one of the stupidest), the American remake of "Taxi" at least tries to turn a new twist on the rusty buddy-cop formula. Director Tim Story ("Barbershop") doesn't do much with the opportunity — there are miles of flat, unfunny footage in this movie — but it is kind of a kick to watch Queen Latifah constantly outmaneuver and outman the guy half of her crime-fighting team.

She's Belle Williams, a speed-loving mechanic who just got her New York cab license. He's Andy Washburn, a loser NYPD detective who — this is the har-har premise — can't drive to save his life, and when he tries to he tends to jeopardize everyone else's.

Andy is played by "Saturday Night Live's" Jimmy Fallon. The actor's movie-starring debut isn't as bad as the usual "SNL" crossover. Silly as his character is, Fallon actually gives Washburn something akin to a full personality. But rest assured, the "SNL" tradition/curse of first movies that are about one-tenth as bright as the show isn't threatened in the least by "Taxi."

Anyway, inevitably, Belle and Andy hook up to pursue a gang of BMW-driving, Brazilian female-model bank robbers. I'll repeat that: Brazilian female-model bank robbers. Gisele Bundchen plays their leader. As an actress, she brings excellent posture to the assignment.

The best parts of the movie are its high-speed chases through Manhattan, Belle's tricked-out-to-the-elevens Crown Victoria cab matching every wild move of the various Beemers. Commercial and music-video cinematographer Vance Burberry gets a real sense of speed into his first feature-directing gig, which leaves you wishing that the film was all just drive scenes.

But Belle's cab is impounded for too long a stretch, so there's lots of static dialogue. Though much of their generally hostile banter is just dead air, Fallon and Latifah eventually work up a persuasive, grudging camaraderie.

The most consistently funny performance belongs to Ann-Margret as Andy's booze-hound mom. That's an easy role to get laughs from, true; but then, bumbling cop and sassy cabby should have been, too.

As it is, "Taxi's" one truly hilarious scene requires laughing gas. Literally.

Cry for help, isn't it?

"Taxi" is rated PG-13 for language, sensuality and brief violence. Running time: 97 minutes.