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The Tuxedo (Kevin Donovan) 2002

   

    The opening moments of the cheerfully stupid new Jackie Chan vehicle The Tuxedo waste no time in establishing the film as a parody of so many self-serious spy thrillers. A majestic riverbank becomes more regal when a strapping deer wanders into frame. Within seconds, though, the illusion is shattered as the buck starts pissing into the river, and the camera follows the stream of urine downstream and into the bottled water processing plant that serves as the base of operations of the filmís supervillain, who intends to use his liquid distribution system to control the worldís economy. This preposterous setup shows The Tuxedo at its crudest, since it never again descends into gross-out gags, but it effectively tells us that weíre to take nothing seriously in the film.

   

    How anyone could make the mistake of taking The Tuxedo seriously, though, is beyond me. Itís a straightforward shaggy dog story that traces the evolution of Jimmy Tong (Jackie Chan) from loser to winner as he moves from being cabbie to chauffer to secret agent. When Jimmy asks a suave ladiesí man how heís so successful, heís told, ďninety percent of it is in the clothes,Ē and surely enough thatís Tongís formula to success. Thanks to a high-tech tuxedo, which allows him to become a marital arts and ballroom dancing expert, he has no trouble slipping into his new role. Chanís physical spasms are frequently funny, since the look on his face usually seems completely at odds with the movements his body is making. Testing credibility even further is the introduction of busty ex-teenybopper Jennifer Love Hewitt as a research scientist turned spy. Though her presence doesnít quite induce as much as head scratching as Denise Richardsí nuclear physicist from The World is Not Enough did (mostly because of the satiric bent of this film, which is about as far from Bondís sexy brand of seriousness as possible) you donít believe her for a minute, but somehow that discordance works in the pictureís favor.

 

      Itís downright refreshing to see a farce in which the lead actors donít feel its necessary to build up some inane sense of dignity so weíll like them more. Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt deserve credit for completely surrendering their decorum to help the film. Both seem up for anything here to get a laugh. He plays a bumbling, socially awkward buffoon that has trouble putting his pants on without the help of a supercomputer. She allows the filmmakers to shoot multiple close-ups of her cleavage and vamps it up at every opportunity to some serious comic effect. Together they gain charm from their charactersí ineptitude instead of through dopey exposition. Even though they spend most of the film in fancy cars and formal wear, theyíre wonderfully classless. Itís unfortunate then that The Tuxedo is marred by direction and editing that are so inept that itís impossible to ultimately recommend it, even with the actorsí solid efforts. First time filmmaker Kevin Donovan seems to be a hack in the making. Though his complete lack of control over the filmís tone sometimes pleasantly recalls the seeming randomness of some of Chanís homegrown efforts, usually it just feels clumsy. The Tuxedo delivers its share of laughs in spite of its director, but itís a shame that a better filmmaker hasnít harnessed the two great assets in this filmís cast (no, not those two!) and put them to better use.

 

* * 1/2 

09-25-02 

Jeremy Heilman