WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: Unassuming but speedy taxi driver Jimmy Tong is given the job of chauffering around mysterious, dapper Englishman Clark Devlin. When Clark is injured by a bomb, Jimmy steps into his shoes – and his suit – and suddenly becomes a dynamic whirlwind capable of anything. Just as well, since Jimmy has to track down the bad guys who got his boss, and the partner sent to help ‘Devlin’, plucky youngster Del Blaine, thinks he’s the real deal.
Hollywood studios aren’t brought into being every day, and even if it was inconceivable that every film it produced would be a classic, the early output of Dreamworks (American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) promised much. But little by little, with the exception of the animation arm financed (forever!) by Shrek, that promise ebbed away, not helped by this irksome attempt to make an English-language star out of Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan and a comic leading lady out of Jennifer Love Hewitt.
The plot – such as it is – goes like this: Jimmy Tong (Chan) is a lowly cab driver, pining for the woman of his dreams but desperately tongue-tied and destined to be a loser until he’s plucked from obscurity by a government agent because of his driving skills. He’s tasked with driving suave Bond-alike Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs) around and witnesses with admiration Devlin’s skills with the ladies and his physical prowess. When Devlin says his confidence is all about the clothes, he’s not kidding, as Jimmy finds out when his boss is targeted and ends up in hospital, telling his driver to trust no-one; Tong dons Clark’s hi-tech tux* and suddenly has the power to do anything he pleases, such as becoming a powerhouse of destruction, dancing or walking up walls.
Meanwhile, back at the government agency (the CSA, whatever that is) spunky young scientist Delilah Blaine (Love Hewitt) discovers the basis of the plan being cooked up by sinister businessman Dietrich Banning (Ritchie Coster), namely to infect the world’s water supplies with a deadly dehydrating bacteria so that everyone will have to buy his bottled water. She’s sent out into the field to accompany “Devlin”, little knowing that the revered secret agent is actually Tong, aided by the suit. Though his henchmen make discovering Banning’s secret lab a fraught and violent job for the mismatched pair of Jimmy and Del, Jimmy’s determined not to let Devlin down and keeps up the pretence for as long as he can stay alive; luckily, he’s not the only one with impressive weapons concealed in his clothing.
Ordinarily I would apologise for the blunt innuendo of that last sentence, but it’s as nothing compared to the leering focus of The Tuxedo. It’s as if the director has realised in advance (and with every justification) that the film has irresolvable issues: firstly, that his plot is a tired rip-off of a dozen Bond films (I particularly thought of Goldfinger’s gold contamination) only with wild contrivances to introduce some noisy action sequences (Del inexplicably gives Banning the Tuxedo – but wait, there’s a second one! Wonder whether that’ll end in a fight…); secondly, that most of his cast are second-rate, Coster proving to be a dreadfully cardboard English villain; thirdly, that despite his good work in Rush Hour, Chan’s best years are quite a way behind him and his struggles with the English language are bound to put off many casual viewers.
Given the inevitability that the film was a dud, Donovan has gone all out to engage pubertal boys by concentrating all his efforts on Love Hewitt’s figure; ‘nice rack’ is the phrase used as a codeword when Del and Jimmy are supposed to meet, and thereafter every scene is moulded to provide a sniggering parade of cleavage shots (yes, she uses them to gain entrance to a party) and close-ups on bottoms – presumably in the interests of equal opportunities there’s an interminable sequence of Chan waving his booty around too. I’m not suggesting that The Tuxedo is anywhere near as rank as Heartbreakers, but it has to be said that Jennifer’s default personality seems to be at the pitch of a hostile Bitch Goddess, giving her directors nothing to work with but her body (compare, if you like, the warmth of an actress like Reese Witherspoon at a similar age). Luckily, the film doesn’t try to suggest any hint of attraction between Jimmy and Delilah until right at the very end (in a messy coda), but when it does it’s not in the least bit convincing.
Even the keenest oglers are likely to become bored by The Tuxedo as it lurches from one awkward set-piece to the next. To be fair to Chan, he still puts everything he has into the fight scenes, but the director’s incompetence ensures that the good stunts he pulls off are overshadowed by obvious wirework and references to the silly gadgetry included in the magical tux. Speaking of which, the tuxedo is an inconsistent bit of equipment, thinking for itself one minute, relying on input from a watch the next, reacting with punches the first time Love Hewitt touches it yet not provoked when she taps Chan on the chest later on. It’s the same lazy use of ‘wacky’ gadgets that marred the re-make of The Stepford Wives (another movie Dreamworks didn’t live to regret), and it grates with all but the least attentive of viewers. On a slightly positive note, I did smile at James Brown’s cameo (God rest his Soul) and the line ‘The name’s Tong, James Tong’, though I have a suspicion that this line might have been the seed which begat the rest of the film – so shame on it.
The Tuxedo is a fine film for young lads new to the medium of film since it provides martial arts, comic-book/sci-fi action, spy games and some basic exploitation of the female form. Imagine the joy of discovering that just about every film in existence does one or more of these elements infinitely better! And while they get a half-speed introduction to Jackie Chan here, imagine the wonder of looking up his back catalogue, or even just finding clips on Youtube, and discovering a pioneer in his prime.
NOTES: Try saying that after a few.