France (2007) Dir. Gérard Krawczyk
It’s been almost a decade since I saw the first three films in the Taxi franchise, unaware that there was a fourth until I found it by accident on Amazon Prime. As sequels often tend to be subject to the law of diminishing returns and in lieu of the harshly negative reviews it has garnered, I prepared for the worst.
Taxi 4 reunites odd couple duo, milquetoast cop Émilien Coutant-Kerbalec (Frédéric Diefenthal) and superfast taxi driver Daniel Morales (Samy Naceri) for another crazy adventure of unbridled chaos. A dangerous Belgian criminal wanted all over Europe, Albert Vandenbosh (Jean-Luc Couchard), is being extradited to the Congo to stand trial for his crimes and Marseille Police are to keep him in custody until the flight.
But, under the leadership of the incompetent Commissioner Gibert (Bernard Farcy) Vandenbosh manages to slip through their fingers and leave the police station, free to execute an audacious heist on a bank in Monaco. With Émilien fired for being the one to let Vandenbosh go, he enlists Daniel’s help to track the Belgian down and hopefully get his job back.
Despite being written by celebrated auteur Luc Besson, this isn’t the most challenging plot but then again the whole Taxi series was never intended to be anything other than silly fun. And whilst this third sequel is missing perhaps the integral ingredient that made the films – the souped up, hi-tech Peugeot that is the titular Taxi and the breathless, high speed chases – it is rip roaringly funny.
It is this rather glaring – and daring – omission from this film that has upset the loyal fan of the franchise and one can see justification for this; it would be akin to a Bruce Lee film without any martial arts fighting in it! However, in this writer’s opinion, the absurd manic humour is such a huge distraction that one can enjoy this as a straight up comedy without missing the speedy thrills.
Not that this marvel of modern motoring technology doesn’t get any action, the opening sequence sees Daniel having to drive a top French footballer (Djibril Cissé) to the first game for his new club with just 8 minutes until kick-off. The other vehicular action comes courtesy of a multi-car pile-up caused, as ever, by Gibert’s maladroit fecklessness in transporting Vandenbosh from the airport to the station.
You see, Vandenbosh is so dangerous that he’s been secured in a padded suit with mask and chained to the walls of an animal cage – which create another problem when Gibert insists it is placed in the main office at the station, so dopey officer Alain (Edouard Montoute) to do a bit of impromptu refurbishing to make it fit, to Gibert’s chagrin.
But after an accident with the toiletry function (long story) Vandenbosh is removed from his suit and revealed to be a rather weedy looking specimen – in fact, he is Belgian embassy attaché Fenimor Triboulet, attacked and substituted by Vandenbosh. Well, actually this isn’t quite true either as is revealed later on but Vandenbosh walks free and takes a taxi (guess who’s?) to his French hideout.
If one was to lament the lack of four-wheeled frolics of Daniel in this film, it should be pointed out that he is essentially fulfilling the title role literally by being a taxi driver for Émilien, Vandenbosh and both his and Émilien’s sons Léo (Driss Spinosa) and, Maxime (Mermoz Melchior) respectively.
The two boys are essentially comedy props, designed to expose the stupidity of the so-called responsible adults around them, most notably those at the extremely lax police station, a motley crew one wouldn’t trust to uphold a pair of trousers let along the law. Some might find drugs officer Marley (Johnson Douyard), a Rastafarian dealer to his co-workers, a stereotype too far but he is more on the ball than the others.
Keen eyed viewers will have noticed that Oscar winner Marion Cotillard is absent from this outing, having played Daniels long suffering girlfriend Lilly in the previous three films, which many critics have praised as an act of perspicacity on her part. The Amazonian blonde Emma Sjöberg-Wiklund who plays Émilien’s police sergeant wife Petra is still featured, going under cover to catch Vandenbosh, begetting a running joke where Émilien fails to recognise his own wife in a dark haired wig!
Admittedly there are plot holes galore, exposed in the sheer haste of the second half of the film in which Vandenbosh performs his heist and how easily Émilien and Daniel seems to be able to find them and stay on his tail, suggesting Besson might have written this in his lunch break, so anyone looking for a gripping storyline will be disappointed, but the execution of the ideas helps hold our interest.
Little has changed for the two main characters even in fatherhood, allowing Frédéric Diefenthal and Samy Naceri to keep their ineffable chemistry intact. Vandenbosh is a typical cartoon villain in every aspect, right down to his small stature and maniacal ego, played with energy and self-awareness by Jean-Luc Couchard but Bernard Farcy steals the show as the manic moron Gibert, a dynamo of overreaction and stupidity that makes Inspector Clouseau look like James Bond.
It might be light on the high speed car chase action of the previous films but that doesn’t prevent this from being a pacey affair, sprinting like a maniac from the opening right through to the silly ending without taking a breath. There is plenty of invention to be found in the visual gags whilst the gags in Bresson’s garrulous script hit more than they miss through the performances.
The negativity towards Taxi 4 stems from the lack of action involving the titular car whilst others didn’t appreciate the zany and absurd humour. Personally, I would advise resigning yourself to not getting the same Taxi film as before and enjoying this as is the stupid, joyously irreverent time wasting fun that it is.