Dressed To Kill

Jackie Chan as James Brown? You gotta be kidding!

Jimmy Tong (Jackie Chan) was a regular cabbie in downstate Toronto who couldn’t throw a decent punch, until he was hired to chauffeur millionaire Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs), a secret agent for the CSA. Jimmy is taken with Devlin’s sophistication and charm, of which he himself has very little, but after an attempted murder that leaves Devlon in a coma, Jimmy learns that many of his boss’ smooth moves were courtesy a very expensive tuxedo.

Instructed by his employer to wear the tuxedo, Jimmy is unaware that along with trousers and jacket, he is in fact expected to step into the shoes of Clark Devlin and parade as the superlative CSA agent himself. This doesn’t prove to be such a backbreaking task, for the suit is a state-of-the-art invention that enables its wearer to perform almost any chore, from scaling walls to walking on ceilings and even singing Soul.

Meanwhile, bottled-water manufacturer Dietrich Banning (Ritchie Coster), plans to monopolize the water market by infecting the world’s major water sources with a noxious bacterium causing instant dehydration. The CSA deploys greenhorn Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) to partner with Clark Devlin. A troubled Tong (who keeps up the Devlin front) and a bewildered Blaine (who never imagined the agent to be Asian) set about an espionage game that puts one’s instincts and the other’s learning to test.

A couple of parties and a rather impressive impersonation of James Brown later, the pair finds itself in the lair of the villain, where Manning himself, now in possession of the wonder suit, fights Jimmy with equal trouser power. No prizes for guessing who comes out clean, but at the end of it, bottled water remains safe to sip.

Directed by former commercial director Kevin Donovan, "The Tuxedo" may seem to have been influenced by a dozen movies before it, including the laughable "Inspector Gadget", but nothing comes close to this. Jackie Chan, who made it OK for action heroes to be less granite and more good-humoured, makes his character fly with the right amounts of naiveté and incredulity. There are times when the tuxedo is programmed to do one thing while its user wants otherwise - Chan carries off such sequences with startling genuineness, validating an acting prowess that rises above the back flip. Love Hewitt, for her bit, slips from a prudish official into an effusive extrovert with unlikely rapidity.

The story is just like the promos promise - a light-hearted piece of fiction. But Jackie Chan makes it a whole lot better.

This article was first published on 15 Jan 2003.