Take that, Buster
Jackie Chan’s The Tuxedo is perfect for his hyperactive antics
Jackie Chan is one of the geniuses of contemporary cinema—enough so that his films tend to delight even when he’s the only good thing in them.
His new film, The Tuxedo, is a mostly conventional action-comedy, but it proves a perfectly serviceable showcase for the hilariously hyperactive antics on which Chan’s stardom has been built.
He’s a little like Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Bruce Lee rolled into one, but the onscreen results place him more squarely in a line of classic physical comedy that runs through Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, and the Roadrunner cartoons. His impishly resourceful movie character is a masterpiece even if his movies aren’t.
In The Tuxedo, Chan plays Jimmy Tong ("Tong, James Tong"), a recklessly eager-to-please taxi driver who becomes the chauffeur of a James Bond-like secret agent and then has to take the agent’s place in the battle against a super-villain water mogul who wants to corner the world market by contaminating all water supplies but his own. It’s a silly story, with some scary hints of real-life biohazards, and it throws Jimmy into a comically problematical partnership with a temperamental rookie agent (Jennifer Love Hewitt).
The tux of the title is the special suit of clothes that gives the secret agent wearing it assorted gimmicky powers suitable to an action-movie superhero. As such, it’s one of several aspects of the film that spoof the James Bond films while also permitting Jackie to do his own frantic, funny variations on Bond-like adventures.
Computer-generated special effects are part of the athletic hilarity this time—with not just Chan and Hewitt, but Richie Coster (as the super-villain Banning) and Jason Isaacs (as the suave agent Clark Devlin) among the beneficiaries. These special effects work smoothly with the characteristic Chan combinations of inventive stunting and hyper-real montage, while the eponymous tuxedo, with its magical powers, teases the notion that with every Jackie Chan stunt the actor projects himself as a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood special effect.
Hewitt is a little like a Valley Girl version of Ginger Rogers trying to keep up with Chan’s Fred Astaire, but she gets the job done. And her post-adolescent peevishness works nicely with the adolescent humor in Jimmy Tong’s boyishly tentative moves toward romance.
The rambunctious good-natured innocence of the hyperkinetic Jackie Chan character is an important part of the deal. The guileless grin on his face is as important to his explosions of physical activity as Buster Keaton’s deadpan expression was to his. It’s enough to make you hope that some day Jackie will find his way into a film as consummately whole and complete as such Keaton masterpieces as Sherlock Jr., The Navigator and The General.