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With: Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Isaacs, Peter Stormare, Debi Mazar, James Brown
Written by: Phil Hay, Michael Leeson, Matt Manfredi, Michael J. Wilson
Directed by: Kevin Donovan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence, sexual content and language
Running Time: -99
Date: 09/19/2002

The Tuxedo (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sharp Dressed Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Through the history of the Oscars, you'll notice that Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were never nominated for Best Actor. Charlie Chaplin was, once, and Astaire did get a nod for Supporting Actor late in his career. But the point is that these artists became cinema legends despite acting chops. Their appeal was based on something else.

Jackie Chan belongs to that group, and it matters not a little that he admires and emulates all five of them.

Chan's English really isn't that superb (but, hey, it's better than my Chinese), and he's not a performer who is going to disappear into a role like, say, George C. Scott's Patton. But he's a great movie star, a phenomenon the world over, thanks to his acrobatic martial arts skills and his considerable screen presence.

I bring all this up because I found myself thinking how minor Chan's new film The Tuxedo, which opens today in Bay Area theaters, felt. But then I wondered what it would have been like reviewing one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' new films back in the 1930s, when the latest one was just like the last one. I would have been tempted to knock the film on that basis alone, even though those carbon copy movies today resonate as some of the flat-out most solid entertainments ever crafted in Hollywood.

So I tried to put a little historical perspective on The Tuxedo and I found myself enjoying it perhaps more than I should have.

Basically, Chan plays a taxi driver named Jimmy Tong who gets hired to drive millionaire entrepreneur Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs) around. Devlin has invented an electronic tuxedo that allows the wearer to automatically have certain skills, like dancing or assembling a high-powered rifle.

The bad guys make an attempt on Devlin's life, which sends him to the hospital. Jimmy steps in for him, teaming up with bookish and smart-mouthed secret agent Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) to rout out the bad guys and discover their evil scheme (which has something to do with engineering the world's water supply to make people more thirsty).

Through the course of The Tuxedo, Chan performs less spectacular fight scenes and trick shots than usual in favor of snappy banter between himself and Hewitt. Unfortunately, the banter could have used a little sharpening. Fortunately, Chan does something he's never done -- a dance number. When he accidentally knocks James Brown (playing himself) unconscious, Jimmy takes his place on stage, performing a knockout, Brown-like "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)."

This scene alone might have been worth the price of a ticket, but not surprisingly, first-time director Kevin Donovan -- who came from TV commercials -- hacks the scene to bits, cutting every two seconds and ruining the fluidity of the number. Astaire, who insisted his dance numbers be shot from head to toe in one continuous take, would roll over in his grave if he could see it.

I finally arrived at the conclusion that Chan needs some of Astaire's or Chaplin's old crew members to do him any justice. Hollywood knows he's talented but since he can't "act," they won't "waste" any high-class filmmakers on him. Imagine the result if, say, the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino got their mitts into a Jackie Chan picture.

For now, The Tuxedo may be the latest in a string of similar films, but it's the best we've got.

DVD Details: It goes without saying that Jackie Chan has not done his best work in Hollywood, but I can't understand why this silly, harmless flick was so brutally savaged last fall. Chan stars as a cabbie who gets hired as a driver for a slick entrepreneur. He winds up stepping in as a super-spy, wearing a computerized tuxedo to stop the bad guys from messing with the world's water supply. Though Jennifer Love Hewitt is no Meryl Streep, she's charmingly goofy as Chan's sidekick, and Debi Mazar, Peter Stormare and Jason Isaacs provide amusing support. Indeed, it's better to rent something like Project A II, but The Tuxedo is for fans who don't mind lesser work by one of the most astonishing film artists working today. Universal's new DVD contains bloopers, deleted scenenes, featurettes, a director commentary track, a trailer and cast and crew bios. Be sure and pick up the widescreen version.

Best Buy Co, Inc.