American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
As the movie opens, Latifah plays a bicycle messenger who races through Macy's, rattles down the steps of the subway, zips through a train to the opposite platform, goes up a ramp, bounces off the back of a moving truck, lands on the sidewalk, jumps off a bridge onto the top of another truck, and so on. This is, of course, not possible to do, and the sequence ends with that ancient cliche in which the rider whips off a helmet and -- why, it's Queen Latifah!
It's her last day on the job. She has finally qualified for her taxi license, and before long we see the customized Yellow Cab she's been working on for three years. Besides the titanium supercharger given by her fellow bike messengers as a farewell present (uh-huh), the car has more gimmicks than a James Bond special; a custom job like this couldn't be touched at under $500,000, which, of course, all bike messengers keep under the bed. Her dream, she says, is to be a NASCAR driver. In her Yellow Cab?
Then we meet a cop named Washburn (Jimmy Fallon), who is spectacularly incompetent, blows drug busts, causes traffic accidents and has, not his badge, but his driver's license confiscated by his chief, Lt. Marta Robbins (Jennifer Esposito), who used to be his squeeze. But no more. When he hears about a bank robbery, he commandeers Queen Latifah's cab, and soon she is racing at speeds well over 100 mph down Manhattan streets in pursuit of the robbers, who are, I kid you not, four supermodels who speak Portuguese. Luckily, Queen Latifah speaks Portuguese, too, because, I dunno, she used to be the delivery girl for a Portuguese takeout joint.
Oh, this is a bad movie. Why, oh why, was the lovely Ann-Margret taken out of retirement to play Fallon's mother, an alcoholic with a blender full of margaritas? Who among the writers (Luc Besson, Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Jim Kouf) thought it would be funny to give Latifah and the cop laughing gas so they could talk funny? What's with Latifah's fiance Jesse (Henry Simmons), who looks like a GQ cover boy and spends long hours in fancy restaurants waiting for Queen Latifah, who is late because she is chasing robbers, etc.? Is there supposed to be subtle chemistry between Latifah and the cop? It's so subtle, we can't tell. (He's afraid to drive because he had a traumatic driving lesson, so she coaches him to sing while he's driving, and he turns into a stunt driver and a pretty fair singer. Uh-huh.)