Jimmy Fallon's big screen career may be over before it even gets started if his complete lack of screen presence in "Taxi" is any indication.
The comedian, who was a hoot as Tina Fey's news co-anchor on "Saturday Night Live" but left the sketch show this season to pursue movie stardom, is virtually invisible next to the charismatic Queen Latifah, Ann-Margret and Jennifer Esposito in this low-watt action-comedy -- and when he's alone in the frame, you may find yourself just looking at the scenery.
Fallon plays a wholly inept cop with such a bad record of wrecking cars that his frustrated lieutenant (Esposito) takes away his driver's license. Desperate to prove himself when he hears a bank heist reported over his police radio, he commandeers a taxi driven by takes-no-sass Latifah -- who, it just so happens, has customized her seemingly average cab into a presto-change-o supercharged street rod. It's the perfect car, with the perfect daredevil driver, for chasing down the crooks -- who are, purely for the sake of selling tickets to 13-year-old boys, leggy Brazilian models in a souped-up BMW.
None of these asinine plot devices (which are just the tip of the iceberg) would matter if the film embraced its own absurdity, focusing on irony and over-the-top action. But the stunt-driving is almost as lackluster as the picture's star (and over-edited to hide this fact), and director Tim Story ("Barbershop") stops the plot dead in its tracks for comedy set pieces, as when Fallon sings along in falsetto to Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)."
Based on a French action-comedy from writer Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "The Transporter"), who also produced this remake, "Taxi" is so weakly scripted that it gives us no reason to invest in Fallon's redemption for his complete failure as a cop, or to care about Latifah's cursory attempts at explaining to her pouting hunk of a boyfriend why she hasn't come home for the fancy dinner he's cooked. And Story apparently cares little about suspension of disbelief because the film is plagued by distractingly obvious blue-screen effects and nearly as obvious stunt doubles. The guy (I'm reasonably sure it's a guy) who is supposed to be Latifah during the opening scene, in which she supposedly bicycles through Manhattan traffic at break-neck speeds, is at least 30 pounds lighter than the zaftig actress.
Not needing a double for the humor, Latifah becomes the film's lead by default, with her spitfire sense of tough-girl comedy timing. But "Taxi's" scene-stealer (if not its saving grace) is Ann-Margret, hilariously loopy as Fallon's sweet but margarita-addled mother, whose apron strings he still clings to rather pathetically.
As for the fledgling star, he's not a complete failure as an actor -- in fact he was terrific in his small role as a corporate-stooge band manager in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous." But while "Taxi" is certainly full of faults that would be hard for most good actors to overcome, Fallon provides the fatal blow himself by being the least interesting part of a pretty paltry movie.
Then again, at least it's not the kind of over-extended sketch movie usually used to launch the failing film careers of "SNL" alumni.