Thursday, October 2, 2008


Martial arts top-kick Jackie Chan and jive-talking jokester Chris Tucker deserve better than they get in sophomore director Brett Ratner's "Rush Hour" (**1/2 out of ****) a moderately entertaining but uninspired chop-socky, action comedy about the abduction of a foreign diplomat's daughter. Not only is this jaded cop thriller thoroughly predictable, but silver screen producers Arthur ("Last Man Standing") Sarkissian and Roger ("G.I. Jane") Birnbaum also have scrimped on the budget. This forgettable yarn about the recovery of the Chinese consul's 11-year old daughter from the hands of greedy, vengeful, million-dollar abductors lacks both punch and momentum. Jackie Chan spends more time acting rather than fighting. The producers have consciously softened his image and relied less on the Charles Chaplin-esquire antics that made Chan's Asian actioneers so captivating and profitable at the box office.

The Jim ("Gang Related") Kouf and Ross ("Star Trek: First Contact") LaManna screenplay qualifies as abject. The shoddy storyline is a standard-issue, fish-out-of-water, by-the-numbers, fill-in-the-blanks melodrama with no surprises and few revelations. The hopelessly complicated plot interferes with the action. Kouf and LaManna have borrowed bits and pieces from Walter Hill's "48 Hrs." and Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon 4." Once again, in a role he perfected in Asian epics such as "Police Story," "Crime Story," "Supercop," and "First Strike," Chan plays an indestructible policeman, Chief Inspector Lee. Lee matches wits, mitts, and skits with maverick cop, LAPD Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker of "Money Talks"). As Lee and Carter, Chan and Tucker bicker and bond, and they give "Rush Hour" its heart and soul. The star chemistry that these two guys generate enlivens this harmless, 97-minute crime thriller. For example, Carter's story about how the LAPD is so hated that his own mother tells her friends that her son is a narcotics pusher instead of a detective is hilarious.

When Consul Han (Tzi Ma), the Chinese Ambassador in Los Angeles, learns that his daughter Soo Yung (Julia Hsu) has been seized, he summons Hong Kong's Inspector Lee. Han and Lee are old pals. Together, they broke the Junteo, a mafia-life Asian crime syndicate which and heisted millions of bucks worth of firearms, narcotics, and elegant Chinese museum artifacts. Meanwhile, the Feds take charge of the kidnapping. FBI Supervisor Warren Russ (Mark Rolston of "Aliens") and agent Whitney (Rex Linn of "CSI: Miami") have some initial misgivings about Consul Han and Chief Inspector Lee. Fearful of the consequences should Inspector Lee encounter injury, they assign LAPD Detective James Carter to 'baby-sit' Lee while he is in their jurisdiction.

Obnoxious Detective Carter is the last man that the FBI wants on their side. A reckless cop like Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry," Carter is a loose cannon on deck. In his introductory scene, Carter nabs Clive (Chris Penn of "True Romance"), an illegal explosives dealer, in a car loaded with C-4. During an abortive getaway attempt, Clive dives out of his auto an instant before Carter shoots a hole in the trunk, blows up the C-4, and turns Clive's vehicle into a blazing meteor. Not only does Carter attract trouble, but he also prefers to work solo. He shuns his current partner, Tania Johnson (Elizabeth Pena of "Transamerica"), and he cracks sexist jokes at her expense. Captain Diel (Philip Baker Hall of "The Rock") wants to suspend him for his destructive shenanigans when the FBI requests an escort for Inspector Lee. At first, Carter thinks that he has been rewarded for his model conduct. Later, he realizes that his captain loaned him out to the FBI as punishment. Now, everybody is laughing at Carter's expense. When he learns that the FBI is using him to keep Inspector Lee out of their hair as well as harm's way, he sets out to solve the case himself.

Meantime, Inspector Lee adores little Soo Yung. She was one of his students before she left with her father for America. Lee makes finding her a personal quest, and he refuses to let Carter thwart him. You get to see the softer side of Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour." When Chan and Tucker team up to interrogate bad guy Clive, Clive rats out the bad guys when Jackie melts his heart with a photo of Soo Yung. Furthermore, Jackie doesn't kill anybody in "Rush Hour." What he does best is battle off huge numbers of thugs. Jackie's best scene occurs at the end when he splits his time between fighting the villains and trying to save priceless Chinese artifacts from destruction.

The measure of any great actioneer is the villainy over which the heroes must triumph. Although the villains have outlandish monetary demands, they never perform mean-spirited acts of violence. Rarely do they serious jeopardize the lives of our police protagonists. Instead, Carter and Lee spend more time clashing with each other than the villains. The worst the villains do is strap the little girl into a vest stitched with C-4. Essentially, these adversaries pose a little threat. As one of Hong Kong's most powerful crime lords in the Juntao, chief villain (Tom Wilkerson of "The Patriot") only shows his audacity at the end when he guns down several FBI agents in cold blood. The antagonists barely make the grade with their adversarial behavior. They are a dull and dreary lot, noting like Jet Li in "Lethal Weapon 4." Brett Ratner directs "Rush Hour" with the brisk efficiency of a traffic cop. Indeed, Ratner keeps this East meets West potboiler on track, but he displays little visual storytelling flair. This would change with the top-notch "Rush Hour 2" and then reappear with "Rush Hour 3." Ratner, who shot 75 music videos before graduating to the movies, doesn't create much rhythm or punch in his film-making. Sadly, thespians such as Oscar-winner Tom Wilkerson, Chris Penn, and Elizabeth Pena are squandered n secondary roles. If you enjoy Jack Chan flicks, "Rush Hour" is tolerable, but it's a shame that the filmmakers didn't match the caliber of Chan's more lavishly produced pictures.

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