by Del Harvey
Worldwide superstar and martial artist par excellence Jackie Chan gets a Brand New Bag and has a whole lotta Love-n doing it.
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To those reviewers who consider The Tuxedo silly, over-the-top, ridiculous, far-fetched, or just plain dumb, I have but one thing to say: You just don’t get it. Obviously, you have not watched enough Jackie Chan films. Very few of his films take themselves too seriously. Just as Mr. Chan seems to live his life carefree and without boundaries, so go his films. One of the main reasons we watch Mr. Chan is to see the only living equivalent to Bruce Lee combined with Buster Keaton, and most especially the outtakes at the end of his films. There you see the seriousness with which Mr. Chan approaches his work. At the same time, you also see the great fun he has, the infectious quality that is carried through to all those around him, and the overriding positive quality to his life.
In The Tuxedo, Jackie is New York cabbie Jimmy Tong. His crush on a beautiful and impossible art gallery employee is shown in the first frames, and becomes the simplest of vehicles which carries a number of gags throughout the film. As a cabbie, Jackie is simply quick-witted; he is not presented as another Oriental who has been trained in Martial Arts since birth. The first fare of this particular day is an especially sharp-tongued Debi Mazar, who promises to double the fee if he can get her to her destination before she finishes applying her makeup. Doing just that in inimitable Chan style, Ms. Mazar offers him a job as chauffer to Clark Devlin at a fee quadruple his weekly earnings as cabbie. No dummy, Jackie snatches the opportunity.
Reporting for work bright and early the next day, among the many rules he learns is this: when you work for playboy millionaire Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs), never touch his prized tuxedo. It’s not hard to tell it apart from the other clothing—it’s the one kept inside a hermetically-sealed container.
As Chan is chauffeuring Devlin for dinner one evening, the boss is temporarily put out of commission in an explosive attack by some nefarious agents. Before passing out, Devlin warns him to trust no one and to wear the suit. Jimmy does as he is told and soon discovers that this extraordinary suit may be more black belt than black tie. He finds himself adopting Devlin’s character (Devlin is in the hospital, unknown to his hush-hush secret agency) and inserting himself into Devlin’s role as superspy. Thrust into a dangerous world of espionage, paired with a rookie partner (Jennifer Love-Hewitt) even less experienced than he is, Jimmy becomes an unwitting but well-dressed secret agent.
There are few things not to like about this film. Such hardcase characters as Mazar’s acerbic spy reveal themselves to have human characteristics and needs, just like the rest of us. Jason Isaacs, so often the bad guy (The Patriot, Soldier), gets to play a seeming blue blood who is a genuine nice guy. Equally typecast as villain, Peter Stormare (Fargo, 8mm) gets to play a bumbling, comedic sidekick to evil madman Richie Coster, bent on owning the world’s only untainted water supply.
Silly as it may seem, The Tuxedo has at least one foot firmly entrenched in reality. Water is the only real commodity in this world we absolutely cannot do without. Anyone who has taken a science class knows that. Chan takes otherwise frightening concepts and reduces them to the laughable with a comic style and grace perfected over many years of trial and error. His other American successes, the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon series, have paired him with unusual sidekicks, meant to get him across to predominantly male audiences eager to catch more of Chan’s incredible action sequences. The Tuxedo allows us to see more sides to Chan’s talent, as he is paired with the lovely and capable Jennifer Love-Hewitt, and a good matching it turns out to be. Mr. Chan even gets to dance in this film—a real challenge as this was the first time he had to dance in a film. And to make it really difficult, he had to learn the dance steps of James Brown. Mr. Chan achieves this near-impossibility flawlessly.
The Tuxedo is a lot of fun and you walk away with a positive feeling. I can’t say as much about many other recent releases.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Southern California, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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