Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jackie Chan- Licensed to Mildly Entertain: "The Tuxedo" (2002)

I do like Jackie Chan. And I do like Jennifer Love Hewitt. Both performers are often under-appreciated in their respective roles- an action hero and an ingenue.

In "The Tuxedo," the two combine and generate no chemistry but a few chuckles. Jimmy Tong (Jackie Chan) is a reckless cab driver hired by Steena (Debi Mazar, speaking of underappreciated) to be the chauffeur to one handsome Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs, trying on that James Bond role he did not get). Jimmy loves working for Devlin, who takes the driver under his wing, until one night when Devlin is almost killed in a bomb explosion.

Del (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is an underling at the CSA, a fictionalized CIA full of leering male coworkers...and Steena. She is assigned to investigate bottled water company magnate Banning (Ritchie Coster), who plans on world domination by engineering his water to make a person thirstier, if it doesn't dry up their insides and kill them in the process (his plans are let on right away, so don't think I just spoiled something here). Del has never seen Devlin, and meets him (as Jimmy) when they must spy on a secret meeting being held by Banning. Jimmy has become such good friends with Devlin, he assumes his identity when Devlin is hurt and in the hospital. He also assumes a technically advanced tuxedo that can turn the wearer into a killing machine or a lover, all depending on what the user programs into a remote control watch. As Del and Jimmy investigate Banning, with Del unaware of Jimmy's real identity, the tuxedo plays important and highly implausible roles in the action.

"The Tuxedo" does score on a few levels. There are some funny action scenes, courtesy of Chan, which might work better if you have never seen one of his films before. Chan still has a problem with English pronunciation (as evidenced by the end credits bloopers) so his line readings are all wrong as he emphasizes the incorrect words consistently. Jennifer Love Hewitt's Del is terribly written, with the viewer never knowing if she is a butt kicking super agent hiding behind a nerdy lab coat, or really is a nerdy lab assistant who is in over her head. Hewitt is easy on the eyes, and scores some laughs here and there, but her character is a complete mess. Debi Mazar and Peter Stormare are wasted in supporting roles, although Jason Isaacs is fun as Devlin.

The plot is thoroughly telegraphed throughout, and makes little sense when contemplated on. Banning's motivations are right out of a James Bond film, but all the characters seem to be in on the plot's thrust, appearing in places they should have no business knowing of, all to satisfy the story's action sequences (a story and screenplay contributed to four different writers). Even the script's tone varies, going bawdy one minute, then PG the next. Throw in an embarrassing James Brown cameo, and you have a mixed bag of a film.

Kevin Donovan's direction is good enough, although a swooping camera following swooping fight scenes might give the viewer swooping seasickness. The cinematography is beautiful, the special effects are okay, and the music complements nicely.

I am not sure if "The Tuxedo" was meant to be the first film of a new franchise, but on its own merits, it is kinda good. Unless you are a pessimist, then it is kinda not good. All those involved have done worse, but have done better as well. (* * *) out of five stars.