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Pepper And His Wacky Taxi
(a.k.a. Wacky Taxi)
(1972)

Director: Alexander Grasshoff  
Cast:
John Astin, Maria Pohji, Tom Dikel


I'm pretty sure that when you first saw the title of the movie I am reviewing here - Pepper And His Wacky Taxi - you instantly came to the conclusion that the movie is aimed at a kiddie audience. And you would be right. Also, after coming to that conclusion, you instantly came to another conclusion, that being that I would talking about the subject of kiddie entertainment in the first part of the review, before talking about and critiquing the actual movie itself. And you would be right again. Although I plan to do those things, before I do so I feel it is necessary to talk a little about my past, the reason being that it will be a lot clearer why I feel the way I do about family films and Pepper And His Wacky Taxi. Let me start with that now. When I was a child, in several aspects my mind was not like the typical mind you find that a child has. Even back then. I had a high intelligence even back then, one that I constantly had to nurture or face boredom. I read a lot of books aimed at age groups much higher than my level. Mad magazine was a favorite of mine, in part because it taught me that even the most serious subjects could be attacked and made fun of. And when it came to entertainment on television, more often than not I would go for entertainment that was originally aimed at adults. I enjoyed programs on television like Looney Tunes or Monty Python's Flying Circus. Although I admit that at a young age I didn't understand every joke that flew out, at the same time I realized that I wasn't being talked down to, or being treated like a child when I wanted to be an equal with adults. And the jokes I didn't get also provoked me into doing research on my own to find what they were talking about, which furthered my knowledge.

All this I'm telling you is not just so you will see how awesome I was even as a child, but to explain my thoughts when it comes to the subject of kiddie entertainment. You see, to put it bluntly I am appalled by the majority of kiddie entertainment that's exhibited both on television and on the silver screen. Let me give you an example. I never got to see the TV show He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe as a child, because I lived too far away from the American television stations that aired it. Decades later, a Canadian television channel started to air it, and I sat down to watch it, excited because I had countless times heard and read fond memories from people who had seen it as kids. But I was stunned by what I saw. The animation was certainly bad, but what really sunk it were the awful scripts, with simple-minded characters and situations. I am sure if I had seen the show as a child, I would have hated it as much as I did now. In fact, I feel the same about most modern day television shows for kids, the worst seemingly coming from the Disney channel. But as I said earlier in this paragraph, it's not just kiddie television shows I dislike greatly; I also dislike most modern kiddie movies. They are filled with lazy scatological humor, lame pop culture references that date the movies quickly, and also contain dumb characters who like to talk VERY LOUD. Sometimes I not only question the intelligence of the filmmakers who make movies like these, but also the parents who let their children watch these films. Shouldn't parents be more careful in choosing kiddie movies? I mean, if I were a parent I would be looking for kiddie movies that happened to be smart and thoughtful as well as entertaining. I would hate to think of my child's mind being warped in a negative way permanently by those disgusting elements found in most kiddie films.

Because I find most kiddie films to be so insufferable, more often than not I try to avoid them, even if I hear positive reports from adult Pepper And His Wacky Taximoviegoers - those positive reports often come from people who think the act of farting is comic gold. The only reason why I review the occasional kiddie film is not only to add variety to my web site, but to inform moviegoers that there are good and smart choices out there on the rare occasion I find a gem. Mostly though, I find kiddie movies I review to be awful, and I use the opportunity to lash out at the filmmakers for being so lazy, as well as lash out to the parents who may be considering showing the movie in question to their children. Which is what I'm going to do with Pepper And His Wacky Taxi. But first, a brief description of the plot. The events of the movie center on Pepe "Pepper" Morales (Astin, Evil Roy Slade), a Hispanic who lives in San Diego with his wife Maria (Pohji) and their children. Pepper's home life is good, but he is dissatisfied with his factory job, and one day he's had enough. He quits his job, and begins the process of making his number one dream come true. He buys a 1959 Cadillac and converts it into a makeshift taxi. Despite the disapproval of his brother-in-law Jaimie (Ralph James, Mork & Mindy), Pepper begins driving around the city collecting fares. But it doesn't take long for Pepper to face a whole bunch of new problems he didn't have at his factory job, ranging from dim-witted passengers to other taxis stealing customers from him. One day, Pepper's taxi is stolen while his back is turned, and despite all his searching he is unable to relocate it. Will Pepper have to abandon his dreams and return to the factory?

There are a lot of things wrong with Pepper And His Wacky Taxi, and probably you got some sort of idea as to what some of those things were just from reading that plot description. I will confirm some of your suspicions right now by beginning my critique by analyzing the one ingredient of the movie that by itself sinks the entire enterprise. That ingredient is the central character of the movie. To put it bluntly, I did not like the character of "Pepper" Morales at all. That is because he is an individual that is both stupid and irresponsible. For starters, at the beginning of the movie we learn he doesn't have a lot of money, and he has a wife and four children, with another child along the way. Yet he decides to risk his fragile status by changing his occupation - without talking about the possibility beforehand with the members of his family. And after he buys the Cadillac with the intent of converting it into a taxi, what does he do with it? He uses a paintbrush to crudely paint the word "TAXI" on the sides of the car, and then immediately afterwards he starts cruising the streets of San Diego without having a meter installed in his car... and without getting a taxi license... and without getting insurance... and without having the city inspect his vehicle beforehand. It should probably come as no surprise that this moronic individual expects to be taken seriously by potential fares and other taxi drivers, since he has the gall to do things like drive to the airport and park his rusted vehicle in line with the licensed taxis, or allow eight or so passengers to cram into his cab. And when his taxi starts to experience multiple engine troubles, he spends hundreds of dollars of his savings getting the lemon in somewhat working order again.

In previous reviews, I have stated how much I hate a lot of movies with stupid characters, since I feel that my intelligence is being insulted. I especially hate movies with stupid characters that are irresponsible. Yes, I know this movie is a comedy, and had the stupidity of Pepper been even a little bit amusing I might have the heart to forgiven the filmmakers. But the character of Pepper, as well as his actions, generates not one single laugh. Part of the reason for this is that he's not just a dimwit; he is a very shallow character. We learn very little about this guy for the entire running time. There's almost no time establishing Pepper before he abruptly quits his job and buys the Cadillac, so we don't know what he was like before deciding to follow his dream. We don't learn what he is thinking or feeling when he is following his dream. And when his taxi is stolen, we don't hear him express himself in any way as to what he thinks about his dreams being crushed. The weak writing found in Pepper And His Wacky Taxi goes beyond the poorly constructed title character. Other characters in the movie are ineptly realized, such as Pepper's wife and children (who don't get that much dialogue, especially dialogue insightful into their characters) and Pepper's brother-in-law (who only seems to be in the movie so that Pepper can get a deus ex machina ending of sorts.) And throughout the movie there are a number of plot holes, like just how Pepper manages to get out of jail when he is arrested red-handed committing a crime. Once he is released, the movie immediately forgets for the rest of the movie about anything like future court dates, then the movie spends an incredible amount of time with the carless Pepper moping around the streets, bars, ballparks, and churches of San Diego, which accomplishes nothing but additional padding so that the movie can reach (barely) feature film running time.

By the way, I did know while watching Pepper And His Wacky Taxi that it was aimed at the kiddie movie circuit. But even though I know that kids can have pretty poor taste when it comes to movies, I can't see them liking this one. More often than not, director Alexander Grasshoff (The Last Dinosaur) botches the staging of the movie's attempted humor, even when it's something like basic slapstick. There's no energy, no feeling of whatever is happening is the least bit silly. The movie just feebly moves along, so kids will be watching the movie with a stone face. But you should not just move kids along to another movie because they won't like this one - there are several moments in the movie that are very inappropriate for kids to see. While kids may not understand what's going on in one scene when Pepper drives a woman to Tijuana to get an abortion, and they may not know about the existence of marijuana in another scene when Pepper stumbles across some teenagers smoking a reefer, there are other questionable moments they may better understand. Shortly after Pepper's taxi is stolen, for example, he starts to break into all the garages in the neighborhood. Later, when Pepper thinks he's found the thief (played by Frank Sinatra Jr.!), he storms into that individual's house and starts to strangle the suspect. Seconds later, Pepper is beaten up by the suspect's friends, the one moment in the entire movie I enjoyed. Had more of Pepper's stupidity been punished, I might have enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it. But as it is, Pepper behind the wheel of his cab will drive you crazy.

(Posted February 4, 2014)

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See also: Evil Roy Slade, King Kung Fu, Stuckey's Last Stand

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