'Tuxedo' tailor-made for Chan

Friday, September 27, 2002

The camera opens on a pastoral vista, with rolling hills and a babbling stream. A majestic elk wades into the water ... then urinates in it. This contaminant is tracked as it flows straight into a bottled water processing plant.

The opening scene of "The Tuxedo" announces to the viewer that this is not your typical Jackie Chan flick.

Those expecting to see the Hong Kong icon in a martial arts epic are likely to be disappointed. But those willing to accept "The Tuxedo" as a goofy James Bond parody rife with bathroom humor are liable to be amused by its smart-alecky qualities.

If nothing else, the movie's oddball tone is consistent. This big-budget vehicle is by no means a great piece of filmmaking, but "The Tuxedo" dives whole-heartedly into the utterly ridiculous elements of its plot. These involve water bugs, instant dehydration and singer James Brown.

Chan plays Jimmy Tong, a speed-loving cabbie who is recruited by reclusive millionaire playboy Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs) to be his personal driver. It soon becomes apparent that the impeccably suave Devlin is really an intelligence operative for the (faux) CSA, and is desperately trying to crack a scheme to profit from polluting America's water supply.

When Devlin is put out of commission during an assassination attempt, Jimmy feels obliged to step in and impersonate him. His means of pulling this off involves an ultra high-tech tuxedo that grants its wearer amazing skills, from kung fu moves to dance steps to anti-gravity capabilities.

Jimmy joins up with novice CSA agent Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a know-it-all who believes she is working with the mysterious Devlin. Predictably, they don't get along; she's annoyed by his visible lack of finesse, and he's plagued by her verbal tactlessness. (As one co-worker sarcastically jokes, "She's having a filter placed between her mouth and brain next week.") Yet together they try and foil the plot of a megalomaniac (Ritchie Coster) and his devious minions.

While the 48-year-old Chan relies on his customary character � a jovial, self-deprecating outsider � it's really Hewitt who shows some new skills. The young beauty is finally starting to capitalize on qualities beyond her smile, such as a sharp sense of comic timing.


Special to the Journal-World

Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt star in the secret agent adventure "The Tuxedo."

Both take pride in physical humor. Admittedly, this is often due to stunt doubles or special effects � although there are outtakes at the end of this film that reveal scenes you would swear are faked to be actually staged by Chan and company.

The action sequences in "The Tuxedo" are not as jaw-dropping as many of the masochistic stunts in Chan's previous pictures. But let's face it, with a few exceptions ("Shanghai Noon"), the star's stateside efforts have been terrible. They're usually little more than a feeble excuse to stage a few cool brawls.

At least "The Tuxedo" holds together as a movie � it looks like "The Matrix" compared to, say, "Rumble in the Bronx" � and the action set pieces serve the story rather than BEING the story.

Like all of Chan's cinematic fights, these don't dwell on the prowess of the hero so much as the bizarre elements of the environment and the props he must employ to defend himself.

The two best gags in the film involve a hotel skirmish where a half-dressed Chan only has the tuxedo pants on, and all his combat maneuvers involve his legs. And there's an end battle where Chan must keep a shot glass containing a dangerous queen insect from escaping (don't ask). He does this by continuing to press the open end of the container against the shifting body parts of Hewitt, thereby trapping the bug AND fending off dozens of attackers that surround him.

You probably won't see that in Bond's "Die Another Day."

ReviewRating: ** 1/2(PG-13)language, sensuality,action violence1 hour, 40 minutesSouthwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa