Co-writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi developed "The Tuxedo" to exploit Jackie Chan's admiration for silent-era comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The partners wanted to challenge the physically versatile Chan, who has made more than 100 movies in 30 years. How about giving the talented martial artist a shot at playing a character with no martial arts-skills whatsoever? Put him in a high-tech Armani tuxedo, however, and voila! He becomes the Jackie Chan everybody loves, possessed of superhuman physical skills, superior marksmanship, and even advanced singing and dancing abilities. As the suit takes over, he's beset by surprise, never knowing what's up its, um, sleeve.
It's a very clever premise, devised to emphasize Chan's comic side and impeccable timing. But the finished product is little more than another predictable spy movie that tries to please as many audiences as possible and ends up satisfying not too many.
When super spy Clark Devlin (Jason Issacs) is injured, his chauffeur, cabbie Jimmy Tong (Chan), steps into his tux. Aligned with the CSA's (think CIA) acerbic ingenue, Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Jimmy must save all humanity from desiccation at the hands of Diedrich Banning (Ritchie Coster, like Jonathan Pryce in "Tomorrow Never Dies," but loutish), a bottled-water magnate who hatches a plot to corner the world's water supply.
Chan and Hewitt play off each other throughout the film, but the leading lady is outshined by Debi Mazar's ("Goodfellas," "The Insider"), turn as the tough cookie who hires Jimmy as Devlin's chauffeur. Their brief taxicab ride indicates how much better the picture might have been had Mazar taken Hewitt's part.
Instead, the filmmakers settle for the generic. Aside from a few digressions into the gruesome, "The Tuxedo" is fairly clean family fun. Unfortunately for Chan fans, Hollywood still doesn't know how to shoot him in action the way they do in Hong Kong. Even though Chan is getting older, he's still quite flexible. But the action scenes in this movie (like its rhythm in general) fall flat. What would be showcase set pieces in Chan's Hong Kong work, including a silo slide and a game of keepaway with a queen water strider (don't ask), are throwaways here.
Two scenes stand out. In one, Chan fights off several villains while wearing only the pants to the tuxedo, with no special abilities imparted to his upper body. It's hilarious to watch the pants pull him one way, his legs executing classic Jackie Chan kicks, while his chest and arms remain inert and his facial expression registers confusion. In the other sequence, Jimmy stands in for James Brown, singing and dancing impressively (via the tux) to "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine."
Chan's everyman appeal is nothing new: Despite his extraordinary physical talent, he's always relied on a "one of us" image. His warmth and good-naturedness again shine through, but they're not enough to raise the film above the level of mildly entertaining escapism. What seemed tailor-made in conception is off-the-rack in realization.