Suit of charmer

The Tuxedo
Rated PG-13
Playing at area theaters
Two-and-a-half reels out of four

There’s a good chance Jackie Chan will never win the Oscar for Best Actor (though stranger things have happened). Likewise, it’s a safe bet he will never win the Nobel Peace Prize. Unless they start giving Nobel Prizes for butt-kicking, of course.

But there’s one area in which I doubt Mr. Chan has any difficulty. And that’s getting a date. I think it’s safe to say the charming, rich and muscular Mr. Chan can have any woman he wants, any time he wants, anywhere he wants.

So why did I have absolutely no difficulty believing his character in The Tuxedo would get tongue-tied when faced with the task of asking a woman out on a date? I have a relatively simple answer: The man can act.

This time around, Chan plays Jimmy Tong, chauffeur for millionaire super-spy Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs) until Devlin ends up in a near-coma in the hospital. When Jimmy goes to fetch some things for his boss, he unwittingly tries on Devlin’s tuxedo and finds that it gives the wearer extraordinary powers. This discovery thrusts Jimmy into a world of international intrigue and espionage and pairs him with an inexperienced partner (Jennifer Love Hewitt).

Most people know Chan for his physical prowess and the breathtaking complexity of his stunts. But he also has a gift for comedy. The guy will never be mistaken for Jim Carrey (not that that’s a bad thing), but I’m not sure he would be as successful as he is without this gift. As previously mentioned, Chan has a scene early in the movie in which he must approach a woman he has never met before, but has admired from afar. Somehow I don’t see Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal pulling this off with the same boyish aw-shucks charm that Chan does.

Because Jimmy is in a special tuxedo that does most of the work for him, Chan is essentially playing a regular guy who has no special physical ability of his own. This does require him to act at least a little bit. But I think the thing Chan has going for him here, as in his better movies, is that he is extremely likeable and never threatening.

As in most Chan movies, the action exists as a framework in which Jackie gets to do his thing. As far as the actor’s pyrotechnics are concerned, I’ve seen him in better form. There is nothing here even close to some of the amazing stunts he pulled off in Rumble in the Bronx.

Although it’s not nearly as funny as Rush Hour or Rush Hour II, there are some hilarious moments in The Tuxedo. The movie follows the basic Chan formula: Don’t overshadow the star, but don’t let him down either. The film is slickly made by first-time director Kevin Donovan.

Although Chan will never go broke with his current formula, I’d like to see him take a page out of the Schwarzenegger playbook. Arnold was on the verge of becoming a running joke until he shrewdly allowed himself to be directed by James Cameron and others who were doing cool things in the action genre. Chan has defied expectations by carving a niche for himself in the American market. I look forward to the day when he aspires to do more than that.

Recommended rental

Beauty and the Beast
(Disney Special Edition)
Available Tuesday

This movie is notable not only because it is one of the better Disney animated features since The Little Mermaid put the company back on the map, but also because it is still the only animated feature film to get a Best Picture nomination. Now that the Academy has created the Best Animated Feature category, that achievement may never be matched. But the movie is pretty good, too. By now, everybody knows the story. Belle is a beautiful but bookish French girl who offers herself to The Beast in place of her father, who has been taken prisoner. In time, Belle realizes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A modern classic.