Jackie Chan fans won't find much to cheer in his latest, The Tuxedo. The gruesome on-screen murder in the opening moments tells us this is not going to be your typical Jackie Chan film.
Hong Kong's martial-arts comic, the Kung Fu Buster Keaton, is misused in this blundering and bloody debut by the former TV commercial director Kevin O'Donovan.
If it weren't for a few genuine Chan novelties and the presence of the goofy Jennifer Love Hewitt, this much-delayed and re-edited mess would be a total loss.
Chan plays Jimmy Tong, a girl-shy New York taxi driver hired as chauffeur for a suave secret agent (given a nice spin by Jason Isaacs). Jimmy is just learning the job and just starting to pick up the boss' debonair way with the ladies when the agent is injured. Jimmy has to take over his mission, which involves investigating a bottled-water baron with dreams of world conquest.
To do the job, Jimmy must don the boss' sleek tux. And what a tux. It can manipulate the body into doing everything from climbing a wall to dancing the tango.
Jimmy acquires a sidekick, the brainy bombshell Del, played with self-mocking verve by Hewitt. Del believes she's teaming with a real secret agent.
The gag here is Chan being Chan as his "suit" makes him perform one death-and-gravity-defying stunt after another. Chan sometimes manages to look like a rag-doll, stuffed inside gadget clothes that have a mind of their own.
And he has one hoot of a scene in which he takes the place of James Brown onstage. Seeing Chan lip sync a show by the Godfather of Soul, taking Brown's slides, splits and tumbles to Jackie Chan extremes, is almost worth the price of admission.
And Hewitt has learned to treat her va-voom looks as a punchline. She comes close to upstaging Chan, much the way Chris Tucker ran away with Rush Hour.
But the movie's a generally joyless affair thanks to a script-by-committee and a director with no grasp of Chan's work and no feel for this sort of comedy. Despite making millions upon millions for Hollywood studios with the Rush Hour movies, Chan apparently doesn't have the clout or the will to insist on better scripts and directors. Here, the burden of Hollywood-style budgets and Hollywood stardom, as well as his age, are showing. He can't play the cute, shy, young do-gooder anymore.
Roger Moore writes for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Company newspaper.