The Tuxedo

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Jackie Chan starred in The Tuxedo (2002) while on hiatus from shooting Gordon Chan’s Hong Kong production The Medallion (2003) for the sole purpose of collaborating with Steven Spielberg’s production company DreamWorks. The two films have a lot in common as each represents an attempt by Jackie Chan to find a place in an english speaking market dominated by CGI special effects. Chan’s reputation was such that he was afforded multiple films to get this formula right after the success of the western-comedy blockbuster Shanghai Noon (2000).

Chan’s extremely physical performance style as a martial artist and comedian is, in many ways, antithetical to these trends. Chan’s patience as an actor is for the practical, tangible effects or stunts that require immediate involvement whereas the more abstract work of digital effects offer few immediate rewards for the actor. But as popular trends in the action-comedy blockbuster change, so must Jackie Chan. Unfortunately these early experiments in combining the classic Jackie Chan methodologies with contemporary special effects proved to be critical, financial, and aesthetic misfires.

It’s interesting that both The Medallion and The Tuxedo cast popular Hollywood leading ladies best known for their teen and college comedies opposite the much older Jackie Chan as his love interests. Claire Forlani in The Medallion and Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Tuxedo are required to pass as physical performers in terms of stunts and slapstick gags that neither actress is particularly attuned too. The obvious reason for their casting was to gain an interest in these films from the teenage demographic at the time. The Medallion and, even more so, The Tuxedo are family films first and foremost that have disposed of the lecherous side of Chan’s onscreen persona to make room for these heartthrobs.

This isn’t to say that Forlani and Hewitt are bad in these movies, just that they are out of place. In The Tuxedo Jennifer Love Hewitt gets a much more developed character that is very active in the film in a way that Forlani just wasn’t able to be in The Medallion. For the most part Jennifer Love Hewitt makes the quirky, nerdy, secret agent thing work for her and is actually quite amusing in the dialogue heavy moments of the film. Her verbal wit and comically expressive face is a suitable foil for Chan’s physical clowning that makes The Tuxedo work in a way that The Medallion fails.

Jackie Chan excels with a comic foil or sidekick like Jennifer Love Hewitt because he has cultivated that performative give and take throughout his career; most famously with Maggie Cheung. Where The Tuxedo actually fails as escapist fare is in the Bond villain lair and with the bizarre pseudo science behind the bad guy’s plan. It’s all just a little too over the top for a film that asks viewers to believe Jackie Chan owes all his physical prowess to a hi-tech tuxedo.