Dir: Tim Story. US. 2004.97 mins.
Luc Besson's French franchise-starter Taxi certainly seems like a goodcandidate for a US makeover: like its two hugely successful sequels, the hit1998 original was essentially, after all, a Hollywood action comedy with aGallic spin. Whatever potential there may have been, however, is squandered bythis bland and rarely funny remake, produced for 20th Century Fox by Bessonhimself and starring Queen Latifah and former Saturday Night Live funnyman Jimmy Fallon.

The remake opened thisWednesday in the US, getting a jump on its immediate competition for theColumbus Day holiday weekend box office dollar. So Fox should be able to securea decent opening gross from a youngish, demographically broad audience.Domestic theatrical takings will drop off quickly, but compensation may wellcome from a strong DVD performance.

Prospects for the film'sinternational roll out - it hits most major markets in November or December -look very iffy however. Stars Latifah and, especially, Fallon have limitedinternational pull and audiences in France and other territories where theoriginal films scored big are likely to prove indifferent to this unnecessaryrehash.

Besson, who produced andwrote but didn't direct the French films, leaves the remake script to a US teamthat includes Jim Kouf, co-writer of the somewhat comparable Rush Hour. TimStory, who made surprise hit Barbershop (also with Latifah) and is nowworking on comic book adaptation Fantastic Four, directs.

The US film-makers retainthe original film's basic structure, as well as many of its visual and verbalgags. What they change, with the apparent intention of appealing better toAmerican sensibilities and a broad American audience, are some of thebackground and character elements that gave the French film something of anedge.

In this version, theneophyte taxi driver with a souped up cab is a black woman - brash New YorkerBelle (Latifah) - with a frustrated boyfriend (Simmons, from TV drama NYPDBlue) waiting at home. Bumbling cop Andy (Fallon) is similar to his Frenchmodel, but the bank robbers he's after are transformed from suave German jocksinto sexy Brazilian sirens.

The plot turns that lead toBelle and Andy pursuing the robbers through the streets of Manhattan in the former'syellow taxi are just as unlikely this time round but the tone of the film issignificantly different: the American version is largely free of un-PC humour(in spite of its star pairing it only risks a couple of very mild racialjokes), sex (the US rating is PG-13), drugs and anti-authority resentment.

In place of those elements,the American version offers a dopey self-realisation storyline (Belle helpsAndy overcome his driving phobia), more broad comedy (even the tired expedientof a laughing gas scene), and some mild titillation for the guys (the robbersin their underwear and a touch of girl-on-girl fondling).

The car-chase scenes delivera good count of metal-crunching collisions and some impressive photography: theproduction made use (supposedly for the first time in a feature film) of arobot crane called the Russian Arm which allows the camera to circle speedingvehicles. What the chase scenes don't offer in sufficient number are thevisceral thrills produced by the original film's simpler, bumper-level shootingtechniques.

The remake might have beenpartially salvaged by more comic chemistry between Latifah and Fallon (sexualchemistry does not appear to be on the menu), but the stars' styles never quitemesh. Individually, Oscar-nominee (for Chicago) Latifah works hard butseems to know that she's now worth better material than this. And Fallon, whorecently quit Saturday Night Live to follow other alumni like AdamSandler and Will Ferrell into movies, hasn't yet - this is his first starringrole - learned that less is often more on the big screen.

The remake's Latin Americanprospects may be boosted by the casting, as head bank robber Vanesssa, ofBrazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen. Older moviegoers, meanwhile, may get akick out of Ann-Margret's appearance as Andy's booze-addled mum.

Prod cos: 20th Century Fox, EuropaCorp, Robert Simonds Company
US dist:
20th Century Fox
Int'l dist: Fox (most), also Europa Corp (Fr)
Exec prods:
Robert Simonds, IraShuman
Luc Besson
Robert Ben Garant &Thomas Lennon, Jim Kouf
Vance Burberry
Prod des:
Mayne Berke
Stuart Levy
Christophe Beck
Main cast:
Queen Latifah, JimmyFallon, Henry Simmons, Jennifer Esposito, Gisele Bündchen