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The Tuxedo   C-

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Kevin Donovan
Writers: Michael J. Wilson, Michael Leeson
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Isaacs, Ritchie Coster, Debi Mazar, Peter Stormare, Mia Cottet.

Review by Rob Vaux

Since when does Jackie Chan need special effects? The man is a living highlight reel, pulling off stunts with such effortless ease that you wonder why we ever bothered with that CGI nonsense in the first place. His comic pratfalls and winning charm add to his already breathtaking acrobatics to create a truly irresistible star persona: someone you can't help but love even when paired with the likes of Chris Tucker. Yet that very package utterly confounds his latest vehicle, The Tuxedo. Not only does it squander most of his assets, but it provides very little to distract us from the waste.

Indeed, without Chan, the film's premise would be lost in high-concept malaise. It involves a $2 billion dollar computerized tux that lets its wearer dance like Fred Astaire, flip like Keri Strug and fight like... well, like Jackie Chan. It belongs to CSA secret agent Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs) who's on the trail of an evil mastermind hoping to destroy the world's water supply. When Devlin goes down in a car bombing, it's up to his meek driver Jimmy Tong (Chan) to don the super-tuxedo and save the day.

As a gimmick, it's rather strained, but it has a sort of dippy charm and it does give Chan a chance to demonstrate his usual array of martial arts tricks. Unfortunately, director Kevin Donovan doesn't seem to understand that, shooting the action scenes in a way that hides rather than illuminates. The choppy editing destroys the flow of the fight scenes, burying Chan's skills beneath distracting framing and cutaways. It could be anybody spinning around up there, and while Chan is getting older, it's depressing to think that he might have required a stand-in for such sequences. Too often, The Tuxedo leaves us contemplating that gloomy prospect.

Thankfully, Chan has other assets. His charisma and heart lend a natural appeal to Jimmy Tong and lift the film's wafer-thin story into something approaching adequacy. Isaacs is loads of fun as well, though he leaves far too quickly to really establish himself. A buddy film featuring the two of them might have done quite well for itself. Unfortunately, The Tuxedo leaves Isaacs comatose in the hospital, while sending a much less polished partner to match Chan's antics. Jennifer Love Hewitt, playing the stock "no really, I'm a scientist" heroine that movies like this can't resist, brings nothing whatsoever to the proceedings. The script saddles her with a lot of screechy dialogue, mistaking open hostility for feisty flirtation. She has a few funny moments, suggesting a genuine comedienne hiding somewhere inside, but her constant snarling undoes that humorous potential. The Tuxedo grants her equal screen time with her partner (doubtless due to some obscure contract clause), leading to scene after wasted scene of unpleasant exchanges with Chan.

Furthermore, the plot itself never really comes together. Obviously, it doesn't require much -- just enough to hang some cool action scenes on -- but the vague James Bond spoof on display feels too shaky even for such modest goals. The phalanx of credited writers never focus the action towards an appreciable goal, and the grab-bag action scenes work more because of Chan than any connection to each other. The Tuxedo feels quite lazy at times, sticking with rote ideas when a little more inspiration might have made for a clever satire. You can see the film The Tuxedo could have been, which makes the mediocre experience it is all the more disappointing.

Chan can survive a lot, and it's a testament to his star power that The Tuxedo doesn't completely collapse. Without him, it has nothing but hot gas and clichés, and even with all his appeal, it does everything it can to render him impotent. The man is nearly indestructible, and if you need a reason to appreciate his skills, watch how well he works under the weight of material like The Tuxedo. If you want to be entertained, however, you'd better bring a good book.

Review published 09.30.2002.

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