By Rob Blackwelder
As Jackie Chan gets older, he's had to start toning down his stock in trade -- the amazing stunts and killer kung fu sequences that have made his movies such a joy to watch in spite of their often paltry plots.
Reduced to relying on a few low-risk fight sequences and his physical, Buster Keaton-style sense of humor, the seams are showing -- and they're ready to burst -- in "The Tuxedo," Chan's first Hollywood picture in which he's not sharing the marquee with Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Noon") or Chris Tucker (the "Rush Hour" flicks).
The movie's gimmick is paper-thin: Chan is a New York cabbie recently hired as chauffeur to a rich, suave secret agent (Jason Isaacs). When his boss is badly injured on a mission, Chan has to take his place, aided by the man's super-high-tech go-go-gadget evening wear -- a tux that can make him dance like James Brown, run like Steve Austin and fight like, well, Jackie Chan.
The plot is even flimsier: A megalomaniacal bottled water mogul (huh?) aims to poison the world's reservoirs with a chemical that (ironically) causes extreme dehydration so he can corner the market for fresh water.
Flimsier still are the outfits worn by bubbly, buxom stick-figure Jennifer Love Hewitt, co-starring as Chan's secret agent contact -- a brainy lab technician (yeah, right!) who is the only person smart enough to figure out the bad guy's diabolical plan.
And downright transparent is the script's endless assault of embarrassingly ham-fisted sex jokes that reek of a script rewrite designed to garner the film a "cooler" PG-13 rating. When Chan says "Nice rack" and Hewitt replies "I forgot my bra," that's about as highbrow as this movie's so-called comedy gets.
Despite being excessively slick and deficiently creative, "The Tuxedo" more closely resembles Chan's Hong Kong films (albeit his lesser ones) than anything else he's done since making it big in America. But the crappy movies he made at home were at least made watchable by scenes of unforgettable derring-do. In motorcycle chases through shopping malls, Chan would crash through glass display cases. He'd leap from a roof to the ground, having his fall broken by tearing through floor after floor of awnings. He'd win fights using every object in a room as a weapon (check out the great ladder-fu sequence in 1997 US release "First Strike").
This movie's fights and stunts are uninspired standard fare unlikely to impress anyone -- least of all Jackie Chan fans.
"The Tuxedo" is not without its fun moments, thanks to Chan's charm and silent-film-inspired schtick that carry some scenes -- especially in the early going when he's still getting used to the tuxedo. Chan manages to keep a completely stunned look on his face while playing that the suit has taken control of his body, sending him unwillingly into "demolition" mode or "shake booty" mode.
But without the trademark wows that always buoyed Jackie Chan's home-grown turkeys there's little (other than Hewitt's body on display) to distract a viewer from the sheer (in both senses of the word) idiocy of "The Tuxedo's" story.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th September 2002
Box Office USA: $50.2M
Distributed by: Dreamworks Distribution LLC
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 108
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Kevin Donovan
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