Dr. Cabbie

Director: Jean-Francois Pouliot
Vinay Virmani, Adrianne Palicki, Kunal Nayyar

Although I have talked about several times about various problems my country has had or continues to face on a regular basis - like the government funding one rotten movie after another that no one wants to see - overall I am glad that I live in Canada. There are no wars going on in my country, the crime rate is a lot lower than in many other countries, and there is universal health care, among other positive attributes. With those and other attributes in mind, plus the fact that my personal life is pretty stable - I have a nice and affordable place to live, and a good job, among other things - I have no desire to pack my bags, move to another country, and start all over. To me, that is a really good thing, because when I sit quietly and think about all the things I would probably have to face if I were to move to another country, I think I would have a nervous breakdown not very long after moving there. One obvious problem would be that more likely than not my new country would have a different language that I would have to learn. Learning a new language - any language - is long and tough, especially if you not only want to speak the language, but also be able to read it. Another problem I would likely have to face would be an entirely different culture. All the new customs and etiquette I would have to learn if I wanted to be accepted by my new neighbors would be very taxing on me. But possibly the worst thing I would have to face would be the very likely prospect that all the DVDs and VHS tapes in my collection would be incompatible with my new country's video system.

Of course, these and other problems I would have to face are problems that are faced by other people who move from their home country to a new country. And I know for a fact that while I think that Canada is a very ideal place, that does not mean that people who move here from another country don't have problems. Canada does have some unique challenges to foreign newcomers. But some of these problems can be overcome with the right amount of determination. For example, you probably know that many parts of Canada have harsh winters. I once heard the true story of a Somali who moved to the Canadian province of Alberta, and during his first winter he found the cold so unbearable that he stayed inside all of the time. But the following year, he found the cold winter a bit more bearable. And then a few years later, it was like he had been born and raised in Canada because he could now face the cold winters with barely a shrug. On the other hand, some newcomers to Canada have problems that prove to be much more of a challenge. Just getting into Canada isn't always that easy - in elementary school, I studied the requirements Immigration Canada often uses to judge whether to let foreign people become Canadian citizens, and you often have to show extreme skills from stuff like the English or French language, or the amount of education and skilled employment you have had. And as it turns out, while you may consider yourself extremely skilled in your country, your skills may mean little to nothing by the standards the Canadian government has placed.

As you have probably guessed, Dr. Cabbie, the movie I am reviewing here, concerns itself with a newcomer to Canada who finds himself struggling against the Canadian bureaucracy. While that premise did interest me a little, what really interested me was the movie fate when released to Dr. CabbieCanadian movie theaters. Although it was handled by Canada's biggest domestic film distributor, the distributor, like with so many other Canadian films it handles, pretty much threw it away. It only released the movie to fifty-five theaters, and with a near invisible marketing campaign. But to everyone's surprise, the movie ended up grossing almost $2 million. That might not sound like much, but it would be roughly the equivalent of a weakly promoted American movie being released to only five hundred and fifty theaters in America, but all the same grossing about twenty million dollars. It makes you wonder how the movie would have performed if the distributor actually put in more effort. Anyway, enough of that, and on to the plot. The title figure is a man called Deepak Veer Chopra (Virmani, Breakaway). He was born and raised in India, and eventually became a doctor in his homeland. But he eventually decides to move to Canada with his mother (Lillete Dubey, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), where he expects he'll be able to continue his medical profession. But once Deepak reaches Canada, he finds out that his medical credentials are not recognized by the Canadian bureaucracy. So he is forced to find work as a taxi driver, though he finds enough support from fellow cab driver Tony (Nayyar, The Big Bang Theory) to keep hoping he'll eventually be able to be a doctor in Canada. As it turns out, this does happen, but not the way that Deepak expects. A pregnant passenger named Natalie (Palicki, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in his taxi goes into labor, and Deepak uses his medical knowledge to help deliver the baby. This incident gives Deepak an idea: Work as a doctor and treat his passengers as he drives his taxi. As it turns out, Deepak's plan works, and he starts to treat more and more people in his taxi while falling in love with Natalie. Of course, his scheme is highly illegal, and there is a chance he could get caught.

I don't know about you, but if I decided to pull up stakes and move to another country, I would first do a lot of research to see if I would properly qualify for getting some sort of employment in that country that would use my experience and skills. And if I did, I would then make sure I properly secured some sort of employment in that country before making the big leap. With that in mind, you probably concluded that I found the cab driving character of Deepak as stupid as cab driver Pepe "Pepper" Morales in Pepper And His Wacky Taxi. Well, while I will admit that I didn't find Deepak as unbearable as that other cinematic cab driver, all the same I was kind of irked by him. It isn't really the fault of actor Virmani - during the quieter and more serious moments of the movie, he does manage to sometimes make his character come off as somewhat sympathetic, like when he is courting the character of Natalie. But when the movie tries to make his character funny, he does more often than not come across as annoying. He seems to be too naive for someone who managed to get through several years of medical school, not just for the reasons I listed at the top of this paragraph. For example, he seems amazed at the speed he can send off e-mails, and later freely sticks his hands into a lobster tank at his uncle's restaurant when working as a waiter. But there's also the problem that he is so relentlessly cheerful and upbeat, even when life seems to be going against him in a hard way. This may have been an attempt to try and win favor with the audience as a protagonist who never gives up against all odds, but instead it makes us in the audience - who are not finding much fun with dealing with our own problems in real life - quite irritated with this fellow, and eventually start wishing he will suffer some irreversible trouble.

As for the other characters and their actors in Dr. Cabbie, the results are kind of mixed. Actor Stephen McHattie (Tomorrow Never Comes) does well in a small role as Deepak's dying boss at the taxi business, being a little gruff but sympathetic in a way that you'll wish that he had more screen time. And as Deepak's love interest, actress Adrianne Palicki is sweet and down to earth; you can actually believe her character falling in love with this naive doctor turned cabbie. Though probably the supporting actor you are more curious about is sitcom star Kunal Nayyar. While he gives it all he's got in this particular performance, performing with a lot of gusto, he doesn't seem able to give his character a sympathetic edge. Instead, he comes across as a braggart and a loudmouth; less would have been a whole lot more. I can believe that the overbearing parts of his character (and Virmani's character for that matter) might have been a decision by director Pouliot (Seducing Dr. Lewis). If so, it would have not been the only bad decision that he made in the director's chair. Pouliot does manage at least to make Dr. Cabbie look good. The movie looks very bright and colorful; some serious expense and effort was put into this. And there are a few musical sequences that are filled with energy. But more of Pouliot's decisions in his position miss rather than hit. For one thing, he often doesn't seem able to let important story elements properly unfold. The whole subplot of Natalie and Deepak falling in love, for one thing, seems to be missing some essential footage. When the two declare their love for each other, it seems to come out of the blue, because previously there had not been enough footage showing the audience the two characters getting to know each other.

Also, while the movie is called Dr. Cabbie, surprisingly there aren't a lot of scenes showing the audience the character of Deepak performing as a doctor in his taxi cab. This angle of the movie comes off as more of an afterthought than anything else. But it may have been for the best, because what we do get to see of Deepak as the taxi doctor really isn't all that compelling. The first scene of this, when Natalie gives birth in Deepak's taxi cab, could have been very wild and over the top. But what does the movie think is funny about this scene? Just the character of Tony thinking that Natalie has peed her pants when she has actually just broken her water. And that's all that's "humorous" about this scene. So it probably comes as no surprise that my declaration that the rest of the humor to be found in Dr. Cabbie is simply not that funny at all. Possibly the level of humor here might be found funny by citizens of India, but this Canadian did not find a restaurant named "Korma Sutra" amusing, nor the rehash of the tired old gag as to what is the difference between oral and rectal thermometers. Having co-written the script, actor Virmani is at least partially responsible for the total unfunniness of the movie. Strangely, though, the movie does improve somewhat in the last third or so when it stops trying to be funny most of the time and instead becomes (mostly) serious. Although this section of the movie is somewhat predictable and certainly not perfect, the mostly straight-faced tone of this particular section came across as refreshing after all that previous unamusing nonsense I had to sit through. Although I have criticized the Canadian film industry for years for its relentless output of movies that are not "fun" movies, in Dr. Cabbie's case I actually think that the movie may have worked somewhat better had it tried a more serious approach throughout.

(Posted Februrary 3, 2022)

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See also: Collision Course, (Indian) Superman, Pepper And His Wacky Taxi