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Released in France almost 20 years ago to the day, the original Taxi movie quickly became a national sensation. Conceived and produced by Luc Besson, the $8 million Marseilles-set action comedy raked in more then eight times its budget at the worldwide box office back in 1998, launching the careers of its two stars — not to mention its young co-star, Marion Cotillard — while spawning three successful sequels over the next decade. (This doesn’t include the woeful 2004 American remake, starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon in roles they’d probably like to erase from their IMDb pages.)
Even if each new film proved to be more or less worse than its predecessor, there was a certain charm to the Taxi franchise’s cartoonish melange of slapstick humor, gonzo road stunts and recurring gags involving a bunch of nincompoop cops and the one badass cab driver who constantly steps in to save the day. Sort of like The Fast and the Furious, but with less action — although Taxi 2 did the car-parachuting-from-an-airplane stunt a long time before Furious 7 — and as if everyone both behind and in front of the camera had taken way too many drugs, the movies had a fun-and-dumb approach to the genre that worked on its own B-grade level.
Back for another go at it after more than 10 years, but with a new cast toplined by actor-director Franck Gastambide, Taxi 5 comes rolling into French theaters and winds up driving straight off a cliff. Yes, this literally happens during a big chase toward the end of the film — but the film itself is truly a five-car pileup of a comedy, with jokes hitting the lowest common denominator and then hitting the ground, and a director at the helm who doesn’t seem to know the first thing about his craft. Not that the other Taxi flicks were comic masterpieces, but compared to this one they look like they were made by Billy Wilder at the height of his powers. Still, local fans should turn out for some of the mayhem, although not necessarily in droves this time.
Gastambide created and starred in the banlieue web series Kaira Shopping, which he followed up with two terrible tie-in features, Porn in the Hood and Pattaya. Both films grasped at the most low-hanging fruits possible, and Taxi 5 does much of the same, with a litany of lame penis jokes, sexist gags about a horny and overweight female officer (at one point she’s tossed off a bridge to stop a moving car), one scene involving a little person being used as a battering ram, and a character whose entire comic routine consists of staring at people cross-eyed. The humor is cringe-worthy for the most part, with maybe one or two mild laughs, and since nothing else in the movie — plot, character, the stunt sequences, a cameo by a French rap star — really works, it can be a long and painful ride.
The director himself plays Sylvain Marot, a Paris cop and ace at the wheel who’s transferred down to Marseilles after inadvertently sleeping with the police chief’s daughter. When he arrives in town, Marot is embedded with a squad of hopeless municipal policemen who have been tasked with protecting a famous diamond from being robbed by Italian crooks. The scenario is worthy of a Bugs Bunny sketch, yet Gastambide stretches it out for 100 minutes, with the Italians (lead by Gomorrah star Salvatore Esposito) acting like the stereotypical goons they’re meant to be and the Frenchies striving to make us laugh.
To give credit where credit is due, series stalwart Bernard Farcy does have a few good moments, returning here to play the nutty mayor of Marseilles. And both Gastambide and co-star Malik Bentalha — the latter picking up the part once held by actor Samy Naceri, whose police record in France is now longer than his filmography — manage to downplay some of their gags. But the director otherwise goes overboard in almost every scene, with one car chase riddled by simultaneous cases of projectile vomiting, and another standout sequence where most of the cast is sprayed with diarrhea. It’s what’s called “pipi-caca” humor in local parlance, and Taxi 5 ultimately does little more than toss turds at the audience all the way up to the closing credits.
Tech is passable for the purported $25 million production, although the car scenes are so chopped up they hardly look real. A busy soundtrack of Gallic hip-hop — the rapper Soprano and the DJ Cut Killer both appear in the movie — tries to keep things moving along.
Production companies: T5 Production, ARP, TF1 Films Production, EuropaCorp
Cast: Franck Gastambide, Malik Bantalha, Bernard Fracy, Sissi Duparc, Anouar Toubali, Monsieur Poulpe, Sabrina Ouzani, Salvatore Esposito
Director: Franck Gastambide
Screenwriters: Franck Gastambide, Stephane Kazandian, Luc Besson
Producers: Luc Besson, Michel Petin, Laurent Petin
Director of photography: Vincent Richard
Production designer: Samuel Teisseire
Costume designer: Claire Lacaze
Editor: Julien Rey
Composers: Kore, 38e Donne
Casting director: Sandra Cherifi Marthon
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