Jackie Chan’s last movie went straight to video. It was called The Accidental Spy, and it was a pure action movie (distinct from The Tuxedo, which I’d call an action comedy). The Accidental Spy was bad, and it showed that Jackie Chan is getting old for an action hero. It was clear that he needed to find a new, less taxing niche.
If The Tuxedo is any indication, I’d say he’s found it.
Jackie and the Magic Tuxedo
PG-13 for language, violence
The plot in The Tuxedo is hardly better than any of Jackie’s other films. He’s done the amnesia plot, the twins-separated-at-birth plot, and plenty of cops vs. robber movies. The Tuxedo is about a magical tuxedo that turns an ordinary man into a superspy, capable of, among other feats, kung fu fighting.
Jimmy Tong (Chan) is a maniacal New York cab driver. He’s had more speeding tickets than anyone else, but no accidents. He’s recruited to drive for a mysterious Mr. Devlin, who he discovers is able to defy gravity, thanks to the aforementioned tuxedo.
When Mr. Devlin is critically injured in a bomb blast, he tells Jackie to wear the tuxedo and find someone named Walter. Once he has Devlin’s tuxedo, Jimmy gets mixed up in a “CSA” (read FBI) mission to uncover a supervillain’s plot to “dehydrate” the world’s water supplies. Will the villain use anything as simple and abundant as, say, salt? Of course not. “There’s no profundity in salt,” he says. Gotta love these movie supervillains.
A Change in Proportions
But as in most Jackie Chan movies, plot is unimportant. Plot is just an excuse to show Jackie Chan doing his thing. And in this case, his thing is comedy with a little action, instead of vice-versa.
The Tuxedo may be the best-written Jackie Chan movie yet. It has lots of comedic situations and some good one-liners. Of his soon-to-be sidekick (Jennifer Love Hewitt), someone says “She’s having a filter installed between her brain and her mouth next week.” And in a moment of frustration and panic, Jackie tosses off this gem: “Miss Cleo told me this would happen!”
The action, which uses more wire fu and special effects than Chan’s other movies, is not so impressive. Normally I’d be disappointed, but these sequences are clearly meant to serve the comedy, not to wow you with the action. It’s a subtle change, just a shift in proportions for Jackie, but it works well without him having to risk his life all the time. It’s a good new niche for Mr. Nice Guy.
The Last Emperor of Soul
The supporting cast has some recognizable faces. Bob Balaban, as director of the CSA, gets to play a heavy. Peter Stormare practically reprises his eye-surgeon role from Minority Report. Colin Mochrie from the TV’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” breaks into film as an art gallery owner. And then, of course, you have James Brown riffing with Jackie (“You’re fast. But I’m faster”), and Jackie stealing The Godfather of Soul’s moves.
Most of these people just get to show up, but Hewitt actually puts in work. As a scientist and member of the CSA, she’s assigned to help Jackie with his mission: she’s the sidekick. She’s also the straight man in this comedy duo, and she’s very good at it. She never loses her intensity or her composure, even when jokes and innuendo get thrown her way. She’s just a little stuffy and just a little humorless, the perfect sounding board for The Tuxedo’s many jokes. Hewitt gets a few token action moves — a kick here, a punch there, but mostly she’s there as contrast.
On the whole, The Tuxedo is a great piece of entertainment. Purist fans of Jackie Chan, action star, might be disappointed at the wires and the special effects, but he’s not the man he used to be. Better to find a new set of expectations for more comedy than action, and The Tuxedo is a good start.