Samy Naceri

Taxi 3 (2003, Gérard Krawczyk)

Taxi 3 starts with a superior set-up, a James Bond-esque chase scene through Marseilles, the good guy on a bicycle, running from the bad guys (on rollerblades). It’s goofy and funny–the best part being the bad guy running into a plexiglass (being carried on the street, a riff on the standard glass) and bouncing off it. It’s nothing spectacular, but it seems to show Taxi 3 is at least going to keep with the rest of the series in terms of diverting attention. Then the good guy reveals himself–and it’s Sylvester Stallone and Taxi 3 all of a sudden skyrockets in potential. After the intro’s done, there’s a beautiful Bond opening title riff. It seems like it’s going to be superior.

And then it all comes crashing down. Given the series always seems like Luc Besson writes the scripts on napkins at breakfast–a ninety minute diversion, some laughs and impressive driving, solid performances–it’d be hard for it to be a complete failure. But with such a strong opening, Taxi 3 sets itself up for a fall.

The script is at fault. The dialogue’s fine, but the plot’s lame. Besson’s greatest influence for these movies seems to be Beverly Hills Cop II (the emphasis on the villains elaborate and illogical heists) and this one’s no different. Klutzy cop Frédéric Diefenthal is after a gang who dresses up like Santa Claus–the story’s set at Christmas, which initially seemed like it would provide some good material, but it doesn’t. He’s so obsessed with the case–in the film’s weakest joke–he can’t tell girlfriend Emma Wiklund is eight months pregnant. Besson’s reasonably adept at finding comic moments for these characters, but that revelation scene is painfully unfunny. Samy Naceri finds out girlfriend Marion Cotillard is similarly with child (though she’s only just found out herself). Besson handles that situation far better, with an amusing driving scene where Naceri can’t pay attention to the road in order to monitor Cotillard’s condition.

It seems like Besson needed to accommodate Wiklund’s actual pregnancy and just figured setting up Cotillard would give him something for Diefenthal and Naceri to talk about in their handful of scenes together. They meet up around the halfway point, when Diefenthal drags Naceri into the plot. It’s forced and awkward, like it’s impossible to imagine the two hanging out when there isn’t a movie going on.

Besson uses Bai Ling as the main villain, which is stupid and predictable. She’s not bad, but she’s annoying.

Bernard Farcy is funny as Diefenthal’s moronic boss. Edouard Montoute is a solid police sidekick to Diefenthal and gets some of the edgier material. Apparently, black cops in Marseilles get run over all the time….

Krawczyk’s direction is decent, certainly suggestive of greater potential than Taxi sequels.

At the end, it picks up a little, since there is a twenty minute chase sequence (earlier, there’s a long and boring one, played for laughs, which definitely hurts the film). It’s a mildly diverting ninety minutes… which is the point. But the opening certainly suggests it could have been more.

Maybe I’m just upset Stallone never showed up again.



Directed by Gérard Krawczyk; written by Luc Besson; director of photography, Gérard Sterin; edited by Yann Hervé; music by DJ Kore and DJ Skalp; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Laurent Pétin and Michèle Pétin; released by ARP Sélection.

Starring Samy Naceri (Daniel Morales), Frédéric Diefenthal (Émilien Coutant-Kerbalec), Bernard Farcy (Commissaire Gibert), Bai Ling (Qiu), Emma Wiklund (Petra), Marion Cotillard (Lilly Bertineau), Edouard Montoute (Alain) and Jean-Christophe Bouvet (Général Edmond Bertineau).

Taxi 2 (2000, Gérard Krawczyk)

Taxi 2 is a sequel in the least artistic, but possibly most admirable way. It picks up an indeterminate time after the first movie, doesn’t deal with the first movie’s conclusion (Samy Naceri becoming a race car driver), and doesn’t really have a story. Instead, it opens with a car chase, then some humor, then throws Naceri into an awkward dinner with girlfriend Marion Cotillard’s parents. It plays more like a reunion than a sequel (or continuation).

Luc Besson’s script takes place over a day and a half, with the half taking place mostly in the third act, so it’s all very fast. Once Naceri and Frédéric Diefenthal are reunited, Taxi 2 just goes. Besson fills the movie with references to the first (a pizza delivery guy, Diefenthal’s driving instructor), but also mimics it. Cotillard has even less to do in this one than the first, just waiting around for Naceri to show up. It wastes her, but given the movie’s practically a slapstick comedy… it doesn’t seem like it would have ever used her well.

Because the present action is long stretches of real-time, whether car chases or action sequences, and it only runs eighty-eight minutes, Naceri doesn’t run away with the movie like he did the first. Besson’s plot is overflowing, this time with a lot of cheap–but funny–laughs, like Diefenthal ending up in the trash again and again. There’s also Bernard Farcy’s bigoted police commissioner–and this time, the Japanese government is visiting, so he’s got a lot of great scenes. But Besson actually throws in a dog poop joke. It makes no sense (the dog poop is on the middle of an airport runway), but it’s absurdly dumb enough to be funny.

Actually, absurdly dumb and funny describes Taxi 2 well–Naceri’s taxi has wings this time and there’s a parachuting scene and a wonderful pile-up of police cars. Director Gérard Krawczyk does a mediocre action director job here, though he handles the humor rather well. His car chases, besides the beautiful Parisian backdrop, lack much excitement. Competent, but not compelling.

Inexplicably, I think the movie uses one of the familiar themes from one of Tarantino’s firsts. I can’t remember which film, but it certainly is recognizable and it seems odd. I mean, Besson’s been around longer than Tarantino. The music worked well, I guess.

It’s a fine enough time killer, with the ending even amusing enough to suggest it’s a better movie.



Directed by Gérard Krawczyk; written by Luc Besson; director of photography, Gérard Sterin; edited by Thierry Hoss; music by Al Khemya; production designer, Jean-Jacques Gernolle; produced by Besson, Laurent Pétin and Michèle Pétin; released by ARP Sélection.

Starring Samy Naceri (Daniel Morales), Frédéric Diefenthal (Émilien Coutant-Kerbalec), Marion Cotillard (Lilly Bertineau), Emma Sjöberg (Petra), Bernard Farcy (Commissaire Gibert), Jean-Christophe Bouvet (Général Edmond Bertineau), Frédérique Tirmont (Lilly’s Mother) and Shimizu Tsuyu (Yuli).

Taxi (1998, Gérard Pirès)

Taxi benefits greatly from its length–eighty-six minutes–and from Besson’s general understanding of how to amuse an audience. He does it to some success in his American films (a rather limited one, but he manages to create likable characters and not bore the viewer), but with Taxi, he does a lot better. The main selling point of the movie, besides the car chases–filmed from helicopter, they’re the antithesis of a Bourne Ultimatum chase, rather interested in creating something cool to see–is lead Samy Naceri. Naceri–a quick wikipedia search reveals–is a lot of trouble, which might explain why he’s never immigrated to Hollywood… because Naceri runs the movie all himself. He’s charismatic and engaging and it doesn’t hurt Besson’s script makes him not just the protagonist, but the character the others all look up to….

He’s like a French George Clooney in one of the Ocean’s movies.

The scenes with Naceri are boring cop scenes, even if the captain is a raving bigot who can’t stop referring to the Germans as Nazis–which is funny, but it’s only a gag and it functions as well as one. There’s also the dumb romance between secondary lead Frederic Diefenthal (who’s probably 5’4″) and Emma Sjoberg (who’s 5’9″)–the height difference is supposed to be funny, get it? Besson’s humor is always very obvious and works real well when the joke punchlines and then goes away, because the joke’s done. When he keeps coming back to it (height difference, Nazis)… it’s a mess.

However, the romance between Naceri and Marion Cotillard is quite nice, because Besson plays the scenes out in a contained, limited environment, to great effect. Situation, difficulty, resolution. Taxi is far from art, so having a lame Freitag triangle for all its plots and subplots is perfectly fine. I mean, if it ran ninety-seven minutes… no. But any modern movie able to run eighty-six minutes and be entertaining for a large majority of them can be shallow. It gets a pass on depth requirements.



Directed by Gérard Pirès; written by Luc Besson; director of photography, Jean-Pierre Sauvaire; edited by Veronique Lange; music by Akhenaton; production designer, Jean-Jacques Gernolle; produced by Besson, Laurent Petin and Michele Petin; released by ARP Selection.

Starring Samy Naceri (Daniel Morales), Frédéric Diefenthal (Émilien Coutant-Kerbalec), Marion Cotillard (Lilly Bertineau), Manuela Gourary (Camille Coutant-Kerbalec), Emma Sjöberg (Petra), Bernard Farcy (Commissaire Gibert) and Georges Neri (Joe).

The Nest (2002, Florent Emilio Siri)

It’s a French remake of Assault on Precinct 13, but with a healthy mix of disaster movie sentimentality (just as visible in, say, Die Hard, as in The Towering Inferno). That sentimentality isn’t bad, it’s a reward. You watch this incredibly manipulative film and then, in the end, you get some pretty music and some sense of human achievement. The Nest takes it further, however, finding moments of reprieve (not just for the viewer, but for the characters) during the story. I can’t remember how I found it, probably through some review of the actual Precinct 13 remake, but whatever I read about it, in terms of reviews, really fouled up my expectations, because the IMDb “critic” made it sound like it had a twist ending. It doesn’t.

The Nest has a really long set-up–over a half hour–and it’s very well-made, not just compositionally, but also in the character dynamics and the general feel of the film. It’s so well-made, I had that moment where I was sorry it wasn’t two hours, instead of being fifteen minutes shy or whatever. But then I realized it couldn’t sustain itself. Finite narratives are finite for a reason. They can’t hold too much or they’re going to burst. The Nest never even comes close to the bursting point, maybe because of its setting. Instead of being in a small confined space, the film takes place in a large confined space, a warehouse. Because of the storytelling economy, the warehouse never seems too big; people move around and they weren’t necessarily in the same shots as other people. The physical space lets Siri compose his shots wide, instead of claustrophobically, because The Nest is not a small, claustrophobic intensity movie. It’s more like… well, Die Hard. Or even Die Hard 2, just because there’s a big budget and a war criminal.

A lot of the film’s strength comes from the cast and what they have to do. I remembered Samy Naceri from Taxi and he’s a movie star and he’s a good one, holding everything together nicely at the beginning. But his friendship with Benoît Magimel becomes important and the film’s attention to it is particularly good. The main cop, Nadia Farès, is good too and she’s got the central action hero role here so, really, she doesn’t have much to do. The enigmatic ex-firefighter night watchmen, played by Pascal Greggory, is probably the film’s most compelling character, just because it gives the viewer very little and Greggory does such a good job.

When I think of French action movies, I think of Luc Besson (in fact, I was shocked he didn’t produce The Nest or something–at least during the credits, after it started I could tell he didn’t, just from the film’s maturity). Pointing out The Nest is superior to American action movies is useless, but it’s still a singular achievement. It’s a good action movie, well-directed and well-acted (another modern rarity, that combination), and it’s narratively sound….

I’m so glad I didn’t let the IMDb clowns scare me away from it.



Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; written by Siri and Jean-Francois Tarnowski; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Christophe Danilo and Olivier Gajan; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Bertrand Seitz; produced by Claude Carrere, Guillaume Godard and Patrick Gouyou-Beauchamps; released by Pathé.

Starring Samy Naceri (Nasser), Benoit Magimel (Santino), Nadia Fares (Laborie), Pascal Greggory (Louis), Sami Bouajila (Selim), Anisia Uzeyman (Nadia), Richard Sammel (Winfried), Valerio Mastandrea (Giovanni), Martial Odone (Martial), Martin Amic (Spitz), Alexandre Hamidi (Tony) and Angelo Infanti (Abedin Nexhep).

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