When a French detective teams up with a law breaking motorhead to catch a group of German bank robbers, all sorts of ludicrous things can happen, as Mark Fraser discovered while sitting through a movie scripted by one of France’s most successful film makers.
The late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once famously said that if you lived among wolves “you have to act like a wolf”.
In many ways this adage is similar to the one that goes something like: “If you want to catch a criminal, you’ve got to think like one”.
While both sayings should equally apply to the modern police force as it goes about fighting – and solving – all sorts of crime, it seems these small pearls of wisdom mostly allude the French authorities.
That’s if Gerard Pires’ 1998 action-comedy Taxi is anything to go by.
As portrayed in the film, Marseille’s constabulary is on a completely different planet than France’s seething underbelly, which probably isn’t good for a city that is considered by many to be the criminal centre of the Mediterranean.
In particular, bumbling chief detective Emilien (Frédéric Diefenthal) is so inept – both in his professional and personal affairs – that he makes Inspector Clouseau look like Hercule Poirot.
Aside from the fact he can’t even fail a driving test without ploughing the examination vehicle through the front of a butcher’s shop, the affable Emilien also proves to be absolutely useless while staking out an expected bank robbery, where his refusal to follow one simple order ultimately botches the entire operation. Later in the film he absent-mindedly starts a fire that burns his mother’s house down.
Luckily, through the good woman (her name is Camile and she is played by Manuela Goaury), he stumbles across Daniel (Samy Naceri), a cocky, hot headed taxi driver who – like some visiting German bank robbers that arrive in Marseille to continue their European looting spree – completely outsmarts the local coppers as he speeds throughout the city in his souped-up Peugeot.
After arresting Daniel (who stupidly boasts about his road exploits to the “incognito” chief detective while he is taking him to police headquarters), Emilien comes up with a brilliant idea. If, via a little blackmail, he can get the taxi driver to help track down the Mercedes-driving Germans, he will not only get some much needed credibility in the office, but he’ll also impress the clothes off his blonde, leggy work colleague Petra (Emma Wiklund).
It’s a great plan, especially as Daniel is so street smart vis-a-vis motor vehicles that he comes up with a solid lead within minutes of begrudgingly accepting the job – something the cops were unable to do after watching this rather conspicuous gang of armed thieves work its way through Holland, Italy and Belgium before reaching their home town.
Thus the stage is set for an elaborate sting in which the rebellious Daniel relies more on the help of his moped-driving pizza delivery friends than members of the local authorities, thus giving the establishment yet another slap in the face.
Written by French director Luc Besson (and released between his own The Fifth Element in 1997 and 1999’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc), Taxi is pretty annoying at the best of times. At its heart it’s a limp buddy-buddy comedy routine that is broken up with multiple shots of speeding vehicles (from a number of points of view), a few moments of sheer traffic carnage, a couple of major shoot-outs as well as a yet-to-be consummated romance between Daniel and Lily (Marion Cotillard).
The film also has a swipe at Germany – not only are the bank robbers (the real, real bad guys in the movie) Krauts, but Marseille’s police Commissioner Gilbert (Bernard Farcy) holds a serious grudge against his north-eastern neighbour that harks back to the death of his grandfather “in the trenches”.
“We won’t let the Germans invade our country again,” he tells his troops before the first disastrous sting. Just why his hatred for the Teutons is confined to the First World War – when it’s likely he would have been alive for, and thus personally affected by, the Nazi occupation and Vichy rule during World War II – is never made clear.
Later, the visiting thieves prove to be quite idiotic themselves when they let bone-headed machismo ruin their criminal modus operandi by falling into Daniel’s clever trap, whereby the sly taxi driver taunts them into an open drag race across the city on the back of a lousy 10 franc bet while they are carrying bags stuffed with cash from their last heist.
Construing this anti-German sentiment as social commentary makes Besson’s script only slightly interesting. Take that away and what’s left is nothing more than an insipid comedy actioner where all the main characters are unbelievably nice to each other (Naceri and Diefenthal are definitely no Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte) and incompetence goes either unnoticed or unpunished.
If anything, Taxi needed a wolf in sheep’s clothing – someone who could have added a bit of bite to the proceedings by blurring the boundaries between law makers and law breakers. At least then there may have been some spicier repartee.