- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

"The Tuxedo" breaks down in unfortunate places: the presentation of chase and stunt sequences meant to take optimum advantage of the physical dexterity and humor of Jackie Chan.

For some reason, the cameras are inclined to be in a less than revealing position, and the editing suffers untimely attacks of disjointedness when the star needs a fluid and propulsive sense of movement.

Nevertheless, the movie is salvaged as a light entertainment by clever conceptual elements and a reliably playful, good-humored set of performers.

An espionage farce, "The Tuxedo" revolves around a notion that always has been implicit in the James Bond series: A master spy is only as good as his arsenal. In this case, the arsenal has been programmed into his best suit of clothes, a high-tech tux equipped to defy gravity and disarm enemies when the wearer activates its awesome array of offensive and defensive capabilities from a wrist dial.

It's also fun that the title apparel has "Sorcerer's Apprentice"-style booby traps. It can prove dressy to an injurious and self-defeating extent if the wearer has no control over the control mechanisms.

Mr. Chan must pretend to blunder into mastery while playing an apprentice agent named Jimmy Tong, a cabbie hired to chauffeur a debonair industrialist named Clark Devlin, who moonlights as the ace spy for the Central Security Agency.

Devlin is entrusted to Jason Isaacs; he takes a liking to Jimmy and even alludes to the dependent nature of his reputation by quipping, "There's a lot less to Clark Devlin than meets the eye."

He and Jimmy elude death in an ambush, but Devlin is seriously injured, shelving Mr. Isaacs sooner than you would like. He seems a pretty swell boss. Partly by accident and partly out of necessity, the Devlin torch is passed to Jimmy, who inherits the magic suit and an unfinished agenda, the foiling of a criminal despot named Diedrich Banning, wittily impersonated by Ritchie Coster.

Banning's legitimate business, bottled spring water, is being perverted as the cover for global blackmail of a particularly fiendish kind. Banning's top mad scientist, Dr. Simms, played by a nearly unrecognizable but blithely crackpot Peter Stormare, has isolated an enzyme that can cause rapid death by dehydration when swallowed. Bottled-water customers loom as the first wave of victims.

Jimmy is assisted by a CSA chemist, Jennifer Love Hewitt as the brainy and voluble but somewhat oblivious Del Blaine, who also is new to fieldwork and doesn't realize that the agent she's trying to help is a brand-new substitute for the legendary Clark Devlin.

A funnier screwball-comedy match than one might have anticipated, Mr. Chan and Miss Hewitt seem to transcend drawbacks while playing characters who must become quick studies and an untutored dynamic duo.

She emerges with her first endearing and flattering movie showcase. She's certainly luckier in her role and ensemble than Reese Witherspoon is in "Sweet Home Alabama."

Del is the one with the gift of gab and the scientific know-how. Jimmy's the one with the gift of acrobatic survival power and tenacity. Somehow, they get the job done without being on the same wavelength much of the time.

Miss Hewitt gets an amusing scene vamping the villain while Mr. Chan is casing the apartment of the villain's ditzy girlfriend (Mia Cottet). One of his best stunt interludes is staged in this setting, where the available furniture also comes to his aid while he is coping with a pair of thugs.

One tight spot obliges him to improvise a delightful one-legged defense posture. The best Chan routines also include a struggle with a rope while positioned at the top of a huge silo, a futile attempt to warn the heroine with magic-lantern hand signals, and a lab chase for a lethal waterborne insect that involves pinning the critter against several parts of Miss Hewitt's anatomy with a tiny jar.

An interlude that imagines Mr. Chan substituting for James Brown at a nightclub doesn't work at all or not while the formal impersonation supposedly is wowing the customers. In the immediate aftermath, Mr. Chan does show an aptitude for shaking his booty to disarm a select set of customers.

The supertux itself was designed by Giorgio Armani and turns out to have a duplicate, setting up a battle of the tux wearers during the showdown.

Presumably, the wittiest ideas originated in the screenplay by Michael J. Wilson and Michael Leeson. It seems to have been up for grabs before it ended up as a Jackie Chan vehicle; one can imagine Jimmy as an enjoyable role for several performers with light-comedy credentials. The Chan linkup isn't as foolproof as one might desire, but there still is ample reason to get a kick out of "The Tuxedo."


**

TITLE: "The Tuxedo"

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting comic vulgarity and violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Kevin Donovan.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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