Clothes make the man in "The Tuxedo." But, unfortunately, they don't make the movie - not even when the garb in question is a computerized Giorgio Armani one-button classic wool crepe tuxedo that is capable of more technological mayhem than James Bond's Aston-Martin.
And not even when the guy wearing this super tux is kickmaster Jackie Chan.
"The Tuxedo" is a breakthrough for karate comedy king Chan, but not necessarily the kind we've all been waiting and hoping for. It's an ultra-digitized DreamWorks show crammed with elaborate special effects, the kind that physical-stunt specialist Chan has always avoided. "The Tuxedo" has him doing flabbergasting moves that, this time, are partly manufactured.
The production is posh enough. The movie is a James Bond spoof about a guy - Chan as chauffeur Jimmy Tong - who accidentally gloms onto the secret weapon of his spy boss, Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs): a computerized, state-of-the-art tuxedo. Like Jim Carrey's mask in "The Mask," this tux literally turns Jimmy's life around. Something of an amiable, goateed schlub, mooning away haplessly over the local art museum guide, he now can simply dial the program on his sleeve and do everything his boss can, whether it's a deadly kung fu brawl, a death-defying climb up a power tower or a wicked tango with a blond bombshell.
Jimmy has the tux because his boss has been nearly killed by nefarious bottled-water magnate Diedrich Banning (Ritchie Coster), a fashion-plate fiend who is cooking up, along with mad scientist Dr. Simms (Peter Stormare, utterly wasted), a plot to conquer the world. And Jimmy has a partner to go along his new sartorial wizardry: Jennifer Love Hewitt as Del Blaine, a saucy fellow spy who mistakes him for Clark and acts like a valley girl with a degree in cybernetics.
There's nothing new about the story line of "The Tuxedo," and nothing new about the jokes either. They're standard-issue whiz-bangers about the ordinary schmo who stumbles into a world of movie-cliche supercriminals and supercops, and writers have been recycling them since Bob Hope's heyday - and even since Buster Keaton's. Of course, there's a new, lewd, gadget-heavy tilt to the gags here. Jimmy has a wild make-out session with Deidrich's hot-to-trot gal pal Steena (Debi Mazar), in which, natch, she rips off his tuxedo and leaves him defenseless. He also outraces cars, plunges off towers, subs impromptu at a concert for Godfather of Soul James Brown (ripping out "Sex Machine"), gets into comical fistfights galore and trades quips nonstop with the acid-tongued but warm-blooded Del.
Every line is prefabricated, every plot move pretested. This is one more movie where you can tell that at least some of the moviemakers - the scriptwriters at least - think originality is a sin.
But what's new is seeing Chan doing the kind of computer-enhanced action that has always been the province of the American stars who can't match him with the live-action stuff, kick for real-life kick. As you'd expect, he's good at what he does here.
But the movie doesn't stretch him in areas where, as an action hero getting older, he should probably do some exploring. It doesn't give him more characterization, more dramatic range, more comic versatility, more verbal bite. It does give him Hewitt, but she's present in a half-baked role, dogged by a camera that, every once in a while, actually peeks down her dress. Game as she is, the pair never generates as much chemistry as Chan and Owen Wilson in "Shanghai Noon."
I have lots of respect for Chan's formidable physical gifts and exuberant moviemaking. But, slick and glossy as it is, "The Tuxedo" doesn't leave you with the kind of rosy glow you might experience after seeing "Drunken Master," "Armour of God" or "Supercop." It's the kind of movie where you really don't have to be told that debuting director Kevin Donovan is a prize-winning director of TV commercials - and it suggests once again that TV commercials are not necessarily the best or only school for the big shows.
As for Chan the man, it's not that he's necessarily better in the old do-it-yourself razzle-dazzle of his Hong Kong movies. It's just that, in his older, simpler outings, it was the man that made the clothes.
2 stars (out of 4)
Directed by Kevin Donovan; written by Michael J. Wilson, Michael Leeson; photographed by Stephen F. Windon; edited by Craig P. Herring; production designed by Paul Denham Austerberry, Monte Fay Hallis; produced by Adam Schroeder, John H. Williams. Running time: 1:39. MPAA rating: PG-13 (action violence, sexual content and language).
Jimmy Tong - Jackie Chan
Del Blaine - Jennifer Love Hewitt
Clark Devlin - Jason Isaacs
Steena - Debi Mazar
Diedrich Banning - Ritchie Coster Dr. Simms - Peter Stormare
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.
Movie review, 'The Tuxedo'
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