THE TUXEDO The best special effect in a Jackie Chan movie is always Chan himself, which makes the affable performer's latest American vehicle an especially ill- fitting and ill-conceived affair. Chan stars as Jimmy Tong, a bumbling, insecure chauffeur who works for a James Bond-like secret agent named Clark Devlin (Jason Isaacs). After getting seriously injured, Devlin insists Tong don the spiffy tuxedo hanging in his closet; upon doing so, the lowly driver discovers that the suit is top-of-the-line government issue, with the ability to tailor itself to its wearer's needs and allow him to do everything from fighting martial arts-style to climbing the walls in the best Spider-Man manner to even executing some smooth moves on the dance floor. Now dressed to thrill, Tong soon finds himself teaming up with a rookie partner (Jennifer Love Hewitt, enjoyably awful) to stop a bottled-water magnate (Ritchie Coster) plotting to contaminate the world's drinking supply so that his own line will be the only safe one around (even the occasionally flailing 007 series never stooped to a level this inane). It's always a rush to witness Chan in his purest form kick and chop his way across the screen, but The Tuxedo miscalculates badly by forcing the star to play second fiddle to the dull effects that allow the suit to come to life. Still, this is hardly the picture's only problem, not when the villain (British, brooding, and boring) is the standard one employed by lazy screenwriters everywhere, nor when Chan and Hewitt demonstrate so little chemistry that they might as well be acting in two separate movies. 1/2
BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER Here's a question to ponder: Why did Warner Bros. elect to hide The Adventures of Pluto Nash from critics yet willfully preview Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever in advance? Yet another motion picture that owes its allegiance to the video game market, the stridently simplistic Ballistic is an absolute failure on even its most basic level as an action movie. Ineptly directed by a Thai filmmaker who bills himself as Kaos (short for Wych Kaosayananda), this 90-minute equivalent of having one's head trapped between two clanging cymbals Chuck Jones-style might contain more explosions, gun battles and car chases per square foot of film footage than any other movie around, yet every boring moment of it is highly derivative, clumsily executed and stridently illogical (one of the heroes keeps setting off explosions away from the villains rather than next to them; what's the point of that?). When a filmmaker goes on record citing director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) as a major influence without even tossing an honorable mention to the likes of John Ford or Howard Hawks (who knew a thing or two about action), it's enough to send a cold chill through the entire industry. As a villainous lackey, Ray Park reveals himself to be an incredibly dull actor when he's not buried under makeup as The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul or X-Men's Toad. And as Ecks and Sever, two former government agents who square off against each other until they learn they have a common foe, Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu mumble their lines to the point of unintelligibility (not that the dialogue is even needed to follow this dum-dum plot). Both stars have made crisp action heroes in the past -- he in Desperado, she in Charlie's Angels -- but here they wearily trudge through a bog of ennui, dragging the rest of us right behind them.
THE BANGER SISTERS Not to be outdone by daughter Kate Hudson's Oscar-nominated turn in Almost Famous, Goldie Hawn herself turns up as a groupie in The Banger Sisters, an affable and even occasionally poignant picture that unfortunately falls apart toward the end. Hawn plays Suzette, a rock & roll babe who was legendary in her day for bedding scores of rock stars (including Jim Morrison); her partner in crime was Lavinia (Susan Sarandon), and together they were known as The Banger Sisters (so named by Frank Zappa). Now having just been fired from her long-standing job as a bartender at an LA nightclub, Suzette hits the road to look up Lavinia after a 20-year separation, but what she finds is a respectable, matronly woman who has suppressed all memories of her wild, wayward youth. Sarandon and especially Hawn are aptly cast in their respective roles, yet the picture is stolen by Geoffrey Rush as a failed writer whose tidy existence is disrupted by Suzette's whirlwind personality -- this character would seem completely extraneous were it not for Rush's quirky performance. Yet while the film threatens to develop from a breezy comedy into a thoughtful drama about the choices that people must make as they become older and are expected to embrace more responsibilities, the transition never works because the second half is rushed and disjointed, with character transformations occurring at an absurdly accelerated rate and plot resolutions being handled in an annoyingly tidy fashion. 1/2