The Tuxedo (2002)

2002, DreamWorks. Directed by Kevin Donovan. Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Isaacs, Debi Mazar, Ritchie Coster, Peter Stormare.

Decent Films Ratings

Overall
Recommendability
?C+
Artistic/
Entertainment Value
?
Moral/Spiritual
Value (+4/-4)
? -2
Age
Appropriateness
?Teens & Up*

External Ratings

MPAA ?PG-13 USCCB ?A-II

Content advisory: Recurring action violence; crass language and sexual references; some sensuality and ogling of female bodies; two distasteful sci-fi death scenes; a gratuitous depiction of animal urination.

By Steven D. Greydanus

Yet another flawed but serviceable vehicle for Jackie Chan’s unique style of action comedy, The Tuxedo is a routine spy romp that finds Jackie in the role of a limo driver for a legendary superspy named Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs), whose last name is a tip of the hat to Cary Grant’s equally suave secret agent in Notorious.

Naturally, at some point something happens to Devlin, and Jimmy Wong (Jackie) is obliged to step into his boss’s shoes — in fact, his whole tuxedo. At this point, Jimmy discovers that Devlin’s sartorial rigor is much more than a matter of impeccable style.

The suit is in fact the Tactical Uniform Experiment (TUX), a high-tech weapons system that acts directly on the user’s nervous system, instantly enabling Jimmy — who, unlike most of Jackie’s characters, has no special skills of his own — to dance like Fred Astaire, climb walls and ceilings like Spider-Man, and, of course, fight like Jackie Chan.

That’s the premise for the latest entry in Jackie’s popular string of Hollywood buddy pictures (other entries include Rush Hour movies with Chris Tucker, Shanghai Noon with Owen Wilson, and as-yet-unreleased sequel Shanghai Knights).

This time out, Jackie’s paired with Jennifer Love Hewitt (Heartbreakers), in the role of secret agent Del Blaine. On the plus side, this means we don’t have to listen to Tucker’s drearily crass language. On the minus side, Wilson and even Tucker were funny, while Hewitt, alas, isn’t. Instead, she’s snippy and irritating, a bit like the unappealing Julia Roberts character in The Mexican.

A better role model for Hewitt would have been an actress she herself has portrayed on television: Audrey Hepburn, who played opposite the original "Devlin," Cary Grant, in Charade, and had some of the same frustrations with his character (whose identity is perpetually in question and who may or may not be a secret agent or a criminal) that Del Blaine has with the man she thinks is "Devlin."

Of course it’s over the top even to mention Charade in the same review as The Tuxedo. The point, though, is that Hepburn’s character was charming and appealing even when angry or frustrated, and it’s not asking too much to expect a comedy of this sort to allow the audience to have some affection for both its male and female leads. After all, it’s not like we’re here for the riveting drama.

As if to compensate for this, first-time director Kevin Donovan does give Jackie more room to work than Brett Ratner has been willing to give him in the Rush Hour movies. Whether he’s jerking convulsively around Devlin’s room trying to master the secrets of the tuxedo, frantically fending off a squad of assassins while dealing with a rope around his neck that ends up wrapped around objects and attackers alike, or boogying onstage in a hilarious impression of James Brown (who’s actually got a cameo in the film, a sort of mutual homage by the two hardest working men in show business), Jackie is as ever a joy to watch.

I can even reconcile myself, to an extent, to the film’s departure from Jackie’s rigorous stunt ethic by its introduction of (gasp!) wire work and stunt doubles. Because the tuxedo supposedly enables Jackie to perform genuinely superhuman feats, the wire work is an excusable device. As for the stunt doubles — well, we know Jackie can’t do backflips like that, so it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s not him; but it’s obvious that he’s still working hard.

The man is getting older, after all, and Hollywood studios tend to be very protective of stars, and can make it difficult for Jackie to do everything he wants to do. (Jackie has said that in The Tuxedo in particular he was given very little control over which stunts he could or couldn’t do, whereas in the coming Shanghai Knights he had almost free rein.)

I see that, other than the spy-impersonation device, I’ve said almost nothing about the actual plot of the movie — certainly nothing about the villain, a bottled-water magnate (Peter Stormare, Minority Report) with a preposterous sci‑fi scheme to sabotage the world’s water supply and establish himself as a global water czar. That’s as it should be. As with a typical James Bond film, the plot is basically irrelevant; the point is what’s happening on the screen.

Unfortunately, The Tuxedo is further marred by gratuitous, even forced crude and sexual humor, as well as a couple of needlessly disgusting special-effects death scenes in which human beings are exposed to a special toxin that leaves them almost instantly dessicated, like dried-up, shriveled corpses. And let’s not forget the opening scene, in which Donovan sets a new low for bad taste by beginning with a lovely tableau with a deer drinking in a pool beneath a pristine waterfall — before pointlessly zooming in on the deer urinating into the pool.

The thought here, apparently, is that this is what sells to young American philistines. Jackie’s Hong Kong films can be jarring to American audiences, but they’re seldom this raunchy; he says he likes to make movies that families can watch together, and still repeats his mantra: "No dirty jokes, no dirty words." Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to sell this part of his formula to Hollywood.

Yet when I watch Jackie slide down the outside of 120-foot silo, I think: This is why I am here. In spite of the movie’s faults, I’m glad for this opportunity to watch Jackie Chan do what nobody else in movies is doing. As with the Rush Hour movies, I can’t quite recommend The Tuxedo; but can’t deny that I enjoyed it, either.

Tags: Jackie Chan, Spy vs. Spy, Action, Comedy, Martial Arts

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