U.S. Release Date: September 27, 2002
Distributor: DreamWorks
Composer: Christophe Beck, John Debney
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt
Running Time: 1 hour and 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action violence, sexual content and language)

Dull-Dressed Man
by Brandon Gray

The Tuxedo opens with a shot of a mountain spring. Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt's names appear in a waterfall and trickle away. Then a deer walks into the stream, and the camera shows a close-up of it urinating. Then the camera follows that urine as it flows through the stream, through murky pipes and filters, ultimately ending up in a factory where it's poured into a plastic bottle. It's supposed to be a joke about the source of the trendy bottled waters people drink, but it's an off-putting opening that the movie never quite rises above.

Chan plays Jimmy Tong, a cab driver who wears a "soul patch" on his chin and is a regular customer at Hooters (the restaurant, not co-star Hewitt). He pines for the sales lady at a high falutin' art dealership, but can't muster the nerve to ask her out.

Things start looking up for him when a mysterious woman (Debi Mazar) enters his cab, and puts his driving skills to the test. He passes, and lands a high-paying gig as the chauffeur for Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs), a suave, sharp-dressed high-roller who can easily seduce women and catch falling glasses of champagne without spilling a drop.

Tong soon learns that he's working for a secret agent, who's also a really nice guy so long as you don't touch his special glass-encased tuxedo. But when Devlin gets put out of commission by a bad guy's bomb on a casual trip for some fast food, he asks Jimmy to take his place, leaving him with the mysterious clue "Walter Strider" before passing out. Jimmy takes him to the hospital, then goes back to Devlin's mansion where he dons the forbidden tuxedo. To his surprise, it turns out to be a high-tech weapon that automatically adjusts to the person wearing it and has a variety of functions from demolition to dancing.

Meanwhile, the CSA headquarters, the secret (and fictional) government agency that Devlin works for, are in a tizzy over bottled water baron Diedrich Banning (Ritchie Coster). Rookie agent Del Blaine (Hewitt) gets assigned to the case after figuring out that the previous agent on the case was killed by extreme dehydration. It turns out Banning has developed a formula to dehydrate the world, thereby essentially making him the ruler as only his water will be able to keep people hydrated.

Del teams up with the veteran Devlin, who she's never met before. Unbeknownst to her, since Devlin is really Jimmy, he's more of a rookie than her. Espionage and tuxedo-related antics ensue.

But who goes to a Jackie Chan movie for the plot? Chan is the Fred Astaire of action, and people line up to see what new jaw-dropping stunts he has in store. That's what makes the premise of The Tuxedo an imperfect fit for the star from the outset. Chan is practically a superhuman already in his physical abilities. He's his own special effect. He doesn't need some CGI super-suit.

Predictably, the result is less Jackie Chan action than his previous Hollywood fare, and more of the wirework and post-production enhanced variety that's more befitting a Jet Li movie. Unlike Jet Li, though, Chan is smart in at least giving his character a good excuse for the super-human stunts in the form of the Tuxedo, even if it's a weak one.

At 48, Chan has admitted he's getting too old to do the kind of stunts that have made him famous and saw The Tuxedo as part of his transition into more acting-oriented roles. That's completely understandable, and to that end he's as charming a comedian as ever here. But to truly make that transition he needs a movie with a stronger story than The Tuxedo, which has a plot that's more paper thin than most of his action-oriented flicks.

When we first meet Hewitt, she's in the CSA lab wearing glasses, a tie and a lab coat, the movie's wardrobe department trying a bit too hard to show she's supposed to be smart. Aside from that, many may be surprised that the worst thing about this movie is not Hewitt. She acquits herself as well as could be expected. She even gamely makes fun of her breasts, the talent she's most famous for in many circles.

However, her character and her relationship with Chan is never fully realized. The moviemakers never decided whether she was the love interest, the sidekick or the kid sister-type, leading to a lot of awkwardness when the banter between her and Chan—who's 25 years her senior in real life—turns to more adult subject matters.

Isaacs, best known for his roles in The Patriot and Black Hawk Down, shows that he could easily replace Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond. It's soon after his character leaves the scene that the movie really falls apart.

Making his feature debut, director Kevin Donovan reveals his music video and commercial roots. Afraid to let any take last more than three seconds, he's quite fond of fast and jump cuts in the middle of scenes where it's completely inappropriate. Part of the joy of Chan is seeing him work in one long take, like Astaire did in his classic musicals. Here the action is so muddled by the editing and the murky production values, that it's hard to see and hence unspectacular. The movie is as ugly as its opening scene promised.

Donovan even does some completely nonsensical things. For instance, there's a slow motion shot of Hewitt walking and sitting down for no reason other than to ogle her walking and sitting down in slow-motion. He also makes too much use of title cards to establish settings. One scene starts with the title card saying "CSA Headquarters Target Practice," when it's obvious that it's CSA target practice given Hewitt and Mazar's presence and the fact that they're shooting at targets.

The Tuxedo ranks dead last in quality among Chan's Hollywood fare, the oddball pairing of Chan and Hewitt coming off as just plain odd instead of generating the odd couple chemistry Chan had with Owen Wilson in the superior Shanghai Noon or with Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour movies.

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