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(2002) (Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: After his spy boss is incapacitated, a driver dons his high tech tuxedo and is suddenly empowered with the ability to do things he never imagined, including attempting to foil a villain's nefarious plan.
Jimmy Tong (JACKIE CHAN) is a cab driver known as much for his various moving violations as for his inability to ask out a pretty woman without getting tongue-tied. It's his driving prowess, however, that impresses secret agent Steena (DEBI MAZAR) enough that she offers him a job chauffeuring top secret agent Clark Devlin (JASON ISAACS) around town.

Suave, sophisticated and quite the ladies man, Devlin is everything Jimmy aspires to be, but the agent informs him that 90 percent of his success comes from the clothes, while the rest emanates from the heart. Jimmy learns that firsthand when Devlin is injured in an attack on his life. Before slipping into a coma, he gives Jimmy his high tech watch and mentions a man's name.

Feeling obligated to help his boss in solving another agent's murder, Jimmy learns that the watch controls an equally high tech tuxedo that allows its wearer to pretty much do anything, such as various dance moves, defy gravity and ward off attackers in self-defense or martial arts modes.

Not wanting anyone to know what happened to Devlin, Jimmy decides to pose as him while meeting and then being partnered with rookie Del Blaine (JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT). The two end up investigating successful businessman Diedrich Banning (RITCHIE COSTER) who's trying to corner the world market on drinking water.

In doing so, they not only meet his ditzy girlfriend, Cheryl (MIA COTTET), and mad scientist, Dr. Simms (PETER STORMARE), but also learn that his plans run deeper than it first seemed. With the aid of the high tech tuxedo, they then set out to stop him.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
When you have a natural wonder, the last thing you want or need to do is attempt to enhance it in some artificial fashion. One shouldn't attempt to widen or deepen the Grand Canyon, make the waves bigger at Oahu, or add extra heat to a volcano's output.

Likewise, and considering his innate, gravity-defying and seemingly psychics bending abilities, one should not try to add to Jackie Chan's physical prowess. Granted, sound effects, editing and even sped-up film have been used over the years to make his abilities appear even larger than life.

The point is, though, that they don't need to, even considering that Chan's starting to get up there in age where such moves must be harder to do. Yet, when any sort of artificial effects are applied to the Asian star, they spoil the natural wonder of what he can offer on the screen.

That's certainly the case in "The Tuxedo," an action comedy that sounded bad in concept and doesn't redeem itself in execution. As written by Michael J. Wilson ("Ice Age") and Michael Leeson ("What Planet Are You From?" "The War of the Roses") and directed by Kevin Donovan (making his foray into feature films after making TV commercials), the story concerns a high tech spy tuxedo that, when accompanied by input from a high tech watch, allows its wearer to do pretty much anything.

That includes defying gravity, wowing the ladies on the dance floor or performing all sorts of unbelievable physical actions usually in fighting off villains and eluding their attempts on the wearer's life. The key element there is the term "unbelievable" as it accurately describes what occurs from start to finish as well as what most viewers' likely reactions will be to all of it.

Of course, I can see and understand the filmmakers' enthusiasm over pairing such a tuxedo and the amazingly talented and limber Chan. After all, if his normal antics are incredibly entertaining to behold, wouldn't an enhanced version be even better?

Unfortunately, the answer is an obvious and resounding no. On his own, Chan is his own special effect who's simply wondrous to watch. With various sorts of obvious visual trickery on hand here, however, everything looks far too fake to accept or enjoy, even considering the far-out premise.

It doesn't help matters that the script isn't that good on various levels. For one, it doesn't take full advantage of the setup. If one's going to have such a magical tux that's capable of apparently doing pretty much anything, why not really get creative and imaginative with the offerings?

Sadly, that's not the case as the filmmakers offer only broadly-based comedy bits, including one where Chan imitates James Brown - after inadvertently knocking out the real singer - on the stage. Like much of the film, what probably looked good or at least promising on paper just doesn't translate that well onto the screen.

The same holds true for the standard mismatched pairing of Chan's character with the rookie one played by Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Can't Hardly Wait," "I Know What You Did Last Summer"). Again, the offerings regarding that are broad, predictable and ultimately flat as the shy and bumbling Jimmy is forced into acting as if he's his spy mentor, while Hewitt's Melanie is fooled by the ruse.

While nothing original, the setup and comic potential of all of that is also squandered. The same can be said about Hewitt who proved she could do physical comedy in "Heartbreakers." While she has a few funny moments and reactions, for the most part she's wasted in the weakly written role. The same holds true for Chan ("Shanghai Noon," the "Rush Hour" films) outside the physical requirements of the part.

Then there's the villain and his diabolical plan that ends in the standard big Hollywood set where more attention was paid to the production details rather than storytelling creativity. I suppose since we're supposed to buy into the magical tax premise that accepting the villain's elaborate plan should be easy to do. Nevertheless, the whole element never transcends its hokeyness, including the means of delivering the diabolical scheme, and Ritchie Coster ("15 Minutes," "The Thomas Crown Affair") can't do anything with the part over than emulate a thousand other forgettable villains.

The most interesting character is the smooth and suave agent played by Jason Isaacs ("Windtalkers," "The Patriot"). Alas, he's in a coma for most of the film, but does shine when he's upright. Peter Stormare ("Minority Report," "Fargo") inexplicably shows up as something of a mad scientist, but is completely wasted in the small part that comes off as if some of his material was left on the cutting room floor.

Like most Chan films, this one features outtakes at the end showing various acting and stunt flubs. Sadly, it's the most entertaining thing this effort has to offer. Squandering both its storytelling and star's potential, "The Tuxedo" is pretty much of a bad fit from start to finish. The film rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 19, 2002 / Posted September 27, 2002

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