Should I Watch..? Taxi (1998)
C'est Quoi L'Histoire?
Taxi is a French action comedy film released in 1998 and was written and co-produced by Luc Besson. Directed by Gérard Pirès, the film has since become one of the most successful French film franchises in history - the film spawned three sequels, an American remake in 2004 also called Taxi and even a TV series. The film's star is Samy Naceri who has reprised his role in all of the sequels so far - Naceri plays a speed-freak with a highly modified Peugeot 406 who is coerced into aiding a bumbling cop apprehend a gang of professional bank robbers. The film's cast also includes a early role for Marion Cottilard, Frédéric Diefenthal, Emma Sjöberg and Bernard Farcy.
Quelle Est L'Intrigue?
In the sunny French town of Marseille, pizza delivery boy Daniel finishes his last shift and looks forward to becoming a full-time taxi driver in his modified Peugeot 406. Across town, bumbling detective Émilien is called into a tense meeting with his boss Commissioner Gibert who wishes to apprehend a team of highly professional bank robbers known as the Mercedes Gang after their preferred choice of getaway vehicle. After Émilien causes a potential sting to go awry, the detective manages to get into Daniel's taxi and soon arrests him for his heavy-footed driving style.
However, Émilien soon hits upon a plan. Using Daniel's confiscated car as leverage, he manages to secure Daniel's assistance and skills to help bring the Mercedes Gang to justice. For Daniel, it's not just a way to get his car back - it also helps keep him out of jail and prevents him losing his girlfriend Lilly. Émilien also has an ulterior motive - success with the case will bring him to the attention of his good-looking colleague Sergeant Petra...
Trailer (with English subtitles)
Le Casting Principal
Release Date (UK)
26th November, 1999
Action, Comedy, Crime
Ce Qui Est Bon?
The joy in watching something in Taxi is how often it surprises you and continues to throughout. The moment Daniel hits his switch to turn his sensible Peugeot into something from The Fast And The Furious is both unexpected and played for laughs as well when the unfortunate passenger in a hurry to get to the airport gets more than he bargained for. The humour is a welcome surprise, given the levels of action involved and the sheer amount of car chases, stunt-work and screaming tyres - you can easily imagine the makers of The Bourne Identity or Ronin sitting down and furiously taking notes.
Naceri and Diefenthal are a decent pair of leads, trading insults and banter as though they've been doing so for years. Cotillard's appearance is also surprising, coming as it did many years before her Oscar-winning turn in La Vie En Rose and her subsequent move to Hollywood but also because she proves a memorable presence in a film which actually doesn't give her nearly enough to do. The film itself is just as well-paced as the cars that feature in it and it is genuinely exciting - but I've always been a sucker for a good car sequence and Taxi provides as much as I could wish for.
- Besson wrote the script for Taxi in thirty days whilst waiting for Columbia Pictures to give the go-ahead for The Fifth Element. Coincidentally, shooting for the film also took just thirty days to complete.
- Over a hundred cars were used in the making of this movie, the majority of which were utterly destroyed.
- Director Pirès was in hospital at the start of the shoot after falling off a horse. Gérard Krawczyk filled in on set, showing the dailies to Pirès in his hospital bed so he could check the progress of the shoot. Krawczyk would ultimately go on to direct the three sequels to Taxi.
Quelle Est La Merde ?
There are other aspects which surprise in a more negative way, like the incredibly misogynistic portrayal of its female characters who are there purely for blatant sex appeal or light comic relief such as Gourary's turn as Émilien's mother. Take Swedish actress Sjoberg - why is she always wearing impossibly tight and impractical skirts and why can't she fire a gun without adopting the sort of pose Angelina Jolie uses on a red carpet? It gives Taxi the uncomfortably old-fashioned air of acceptable sexism us Brits left behind in the late Seventies but one assumes that French audiences lapped it up, given how successful the series has become.
Obviously, anyone struggling with subtitles won't enjoy the experience too much unless they can find an English dub somewhere (and good luck with that). But the plot isn't really that deep so trying to keep up is pretty optional, to tell the truth. The film thrives on the interaction between Naceri and Diefenthal and the brilliant cinematography whenever a car screeches into life so I'd pay closer attention to that if I were you.
Devrais-Je Regarder Ce Film ?
Absolument. Taxi is a refreshing action comedy that isn't afraid to bask in its American influences and arguably, has helped a new generation of film-makers bring the lost art of the car chase back. One wonders whether The Fast And The Furious would even have happened were it not for the likes of this. Funny, exciting and occasionally very French, Taxi is a great little film that delivers far more than pizzas. It's also considerably better than that damned US remake...
Great For: Francophiles, boy racers, nostalgic middle-aged men
Not So Great For: forward-thinking intellectuals, Jimmy Fallon's movie career, girls
Quels Autres Films Dois-Je Consulter ?
I confess, the three sequels to Taxi have all passed me by thus far but I can't imagine that they stray too far from the formula, in much the same way that 2 Fast 2 Furious wasn't that much different from The Fast And The Furious. Car movies have usually been pretty niche until recent years - consider the likes of Vanishing Point or Smokey And The Bandit - but films such as this and The Transporter seem to have stirred the creative juices of film-makers and now, rare is the day when an action film contains no driving scenes at all.
French cinema, of course, has had a long and proud history but were always seen as being a bit art-house. Nowadays, the French can produce big budget action blockbusters like the parkour-inspired District 13, heart-warming romances like Amélie and inventive sci-fi classics like The Fifth Element. French cinema should no longer be seen as the reserve of the elite or snobby critic - give them a go, they might surprise you.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox