All Jackie Chan vehicles are of interest--how could they not be, with him as the star?--but they're not all created equal, and it's fair to say "The Tuxedo" will not be at the top of anyone's list. It's simply Hollywood's latest attempt to fit Asia's iconoclastic action hero into familiar genre patterns.
Though Chan at age 48 may not have all the martial arts moves that made his reputation in films like 1978's "Drunken Master," he hasn't lost any of the irresistible warmth and pure likability that are his trademark.
Chan is so likable that matching him with an American co-star has practically become a cottage industry. Jennifer Love Hewitt, his partner here, follows Chris Tucker ("Rush Hour") and Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Noon") in a parade that might, for all we know, end with Chan joining forces with Luke Skywalker, or maybe even Yoda. Despite the nearly $1 billion in worldwide box office his estimated 80 to 100 films have earned, Chan is still able to project the boyishness and insecurity of the new kid on the block. But even those aren't enough to make "Tuxedo" a black-tie affair.
Indifferently put together by Kevin Donovan, an award-winning commercial director making his feature debut, "The Tuxedo" is in line with the other recent Chan films that are heavier on personality than action.
Despite a presumably large budget and use of special effects, it says something about this putative James Bond spoof that its most memorable sequence is Chan doing a dead-on imitation of James Brown's stage act. Even the outtakes that traditionally close Chan films deal more with verbal than physical flubs.
As the casting of Hewitt and a mild but unmistakable strain of bathroom humor indicates, "Tuxedo" is aimed at an audience of preteens who can be counted on to giggle when a deer urinates in a stream before the film's opening credits are over.
Patched together by four writers (screenplay by Michael J. Wilson and Michael Leeson, story by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi and Michael J. Wilson), "Tuxedo" can't do better than a plot that's way less sophisticated than either "Spy Kids" movie.
Still, the film's core gimmick, the high-concept idea that probably got it made, is a serviceable one. It's the notion that a top secret agent owns a tuxedo that gives the wearer the ability to perform remarkable feats, a garment that can turn a shy innocent into a martial arts machine.
That innocent turns out to be cabdriver Jimmy Tong (Chan), too timid to ask attractive women out for dates. His driving skills, however, lead to a job as chauffeur for secret agent Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs, who was a memorable villain in "The Patriot").
Devlin is on the track of bad guy Diedrich Banning (Ritchie Coster), a megalomaniac who wants to use doctored water to take over the world. Or something. At any rate, a job-related accident puts Devlin out of commission, and Jimmy takes on both the tuxedo and the challenge of stopping Banning.
Mastering the tux is actually the harder task, and it can be amusing to watch Chan make believe that the suit is making him do things he wouldn't ordinarily attempt. It's as if the actor's regular screen personality has been cut in two, with the suit getting the fighting ability and Chan retaining the smile.
As the newest secret agent's new partner, Del Blaine, Hewitt has a hard time of it in a role that would be a challenge for anyone.
Being Chan's straight man defines difficult assignment, and unlike the characters Tucker and Wilson played, Blaine has been conceived as strident and humorless, not the most felicitous combination for a Jackie Chan film. Maybe Yoda isn't such a bad idea after all.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for action violence, sexual content and language. Times guidelines: Bathroom humor is a factor.
A Vanguard Films production, a Parkes/MacDonald production, released by DreamWorks Pictures. Director Kevin Donovan. Producers John H. Williams, Adam Schroeder. Executive producers Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, William S. Beasley. Screenplay Michael J. Wilson and Michael Leeson. Story Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi and Michael J. Wilson. Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon. Editor Craig P. Herring. Costumes Erica Edell Phillips. Music Christophe Beck. Production design Paul Denham Austerberry, Monte Fay Hallis. Art director Nigel Churcher. Set decorator Jaro Dick. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
In general release.