Modern European xenophobia and vigilantism receive a tiresome melodramatic expose in “Taxi.” Impressive technique and some eye-catching performances keep Carlos Saura’s latest pic watchable for a good part of its overlong running time, but a schematic, predictable script and unsatisfying denouement run this wannabe shocker into a ditch. Pic doesn’t look to travel far internationally.
“There’s too much garbage, and if nobody will sweep it up, we will,” exclaims one of the leading characters, speaking for a group of like-minded taxi drivers. The garbage in question is not refuse on the streets of Madrid, but Arabs, blacks, drug-addicts, gays and all manner of deviants, whom the drivers have patriotically decided to pick up at night and violently dispatch.
Among the core group of death-squadders, a self-described “family,” are Velasco (Angel de Andres Lopez), the smugly self-satisfied father of sexy, rebellious Paz (Ingrid Rubio), who begins driving when she flunks out of school; the lusty Reme (Agata Lys), whose hunky son Dani (Carlos Fuentes) is in military service and catches Paz’s eye; Calero (Eusebio Lazaro), a vicious ex-cop and all-too-obvious symbol for Franco; and Nino, a fat, racist skinhead.
In between brutal assaults on targets whose looks the drivers don’t like and arguments over tactics, quite a bit of time is given over to Paz’s tense relationship with her father, who is so upset over her newly shaved head that he insists she wear a frightful blond wig.
Key sequence is a nocturnal attack by the hit squad on an Arab shantytown, with Dani, whose political thinking is not articulated, egged on by the others to kill a man. This senseless act gnaws at him, but he really becomes upset only when he finds that his racism gets in the way of his burgeoning romance with Paz.
For her part, Paz takes an amazingly long time to wake up to the political sentiments of her father’s circle, especially after a protracted luncheon during which members of the Family can’t restrain themselves from jerking into fascist salutes. When she finally sees things for what they are, the ruthless Calero insists that they are all doomed unless Paz is killed; pic quickly spirals down the drain from there.
Aside from turning this torn-from-the-headlines tale into such contrived melodrama, film’s major problem would seem to be its decision to point the finger of blame so exclusively at the remnants of the Franco years. At one point, Calero, speaking of the Arabs, announces that “everything that’s wrong with this country is their fault.” But the picture takes an almost equally simplistic view, suggesting that it is the aging, leftover fascists who are stirring up all the trouble, and that with them out of the way, young people can be trusted to turn things in the right direction. It’s an unrealistic, sentimental outlook, and quite unsatisfying as an analysis of the problem.
The feisty and fetching Rubio keeps the picture interesting to watch even when the events around her are going dramatically haywire. Fuentes has matinee idol looks, and Lys is a live wire as a sexy middle-aged mom with a cruel streak.
Lenser Vittorio Storaro, in his second collaboration with Saura, makes the many night scenes colorful and dramatic, while soundtrack of pop tunes is lively.