Thursday, October 2, 2008


Actor-comedian Chris Tucker cracks me up every time he tells a joke. He captivated me the first time that I saw him clowning around as the character Smoky in director F. Gary Gray's riotous 'N the Hood' farce "Friday" (1995) with Ice-Cube. Tucker attained outlandish heights with his unforgettable coiffure and his loose-lipped loquacity as the ridiculous Ruby Rhod in director Luc Besson's sci-fi extravaganza "The Fifth Element" (1997) with Bruce Willis. Anybody that supports the American Rifle Association should praise Tucker, too. In director Brett Ratner's "Money Talks" (1997), the Tucker hero, Franklin Hatchett, summed up his philosophy about guns. "Guns don't kill people," Hatchett ranted, "Stupid motherf*@kers with guns kill people!" Probably the giddiest moments of director Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" (1998) featured nappy headed Tucker arguing with villainous Samuel L. Jackson about climbing in the trunk of Jackson's car. Tucker has rejected movie offers left and rightly largely because nobody wanted to pay his asking price. No matter how astronomical Tucker's salary demands may have seemed, Ice-Cube definitely blew it when he left Smoky out of "Next Friday." As a result, "Next Friday" pales by comparison with "Friday." New Line Cinema, which produced the "Rush Hour" thrillers, learned it lesson from Ice-Cube's disaster. Mind you, Mike Epps is funny, but he isn't Chris Tucker funny! Nobody could possibly fill Tucker's shoes in either "Next Friday" or "Rush Hour 2!" They paid the Def Jam stand-up comic from Decatur, Georgia, a whopping $20-million so he would reprise his "Rush Hour" role as LAPD Detective James Carter opposite Jackie Chan in director Brett Ratner's turbo-driven sequel. Producers Arthur Sarkissian, Roger Birnbaum, Jay Stern, and Jonathan Glickman spent their bucks wisely. The comedian chemistry between Tucker and Chan, surely the oddest couple of mismatched cops ever, has lost none of its spontaneity. Altogether, "Rush Hour 2" proves a hundred times more satisfying than its tame 1998 blockbuster predecessor.

"Rush Hour 2" opens in exotic Hong Kong as a bomb explodes at the American Embassy, and two translators die. The Royal Hong Kong Police suspect Triad chieftain Ricky Tan (John Lone of "The Last Emperor") may have had something to do with the bombing. They send Chief Inspector Lee (Jack Chan of "Shanghai Noon") out to question him. Riding with Lee is none other than LAPD Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) who is trying to enjoy his vacation in Hong Kong. Lee tries to make contact with Tan at a karaoke bar while Carter decides to hog the microphone and croon Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." Carter thought they had entered the bar to pick up girls, and he isn't amused when Lee tells him that they are supposed to be undercover. "We are in Hong Kong now," Lee reminds him. "Here I am Michael Jackson, and you are Toto!" A disgruntled Carter corrects Lee's malapropism. "That's Tito, fool. Toto is what we had for dinner last night!" No sooner has Lee revealed his true intentions than Carter decides to roust the Triad gangsters with his fractured Chinese. "You just asked them to take out their samurai swords and shave your butt!" No matter where Lee takes Carter, they wind up surrounded by thugs out to kill them. The best scene in "Rush Hour 2" takes place in the Heaven on Earth massage parlor. Lee spots Ricky Tan as he strolls and goes to call for back-up. The impetuous, egotistical Carter decides he can handle Tan alone. He realizes what a dreadful mistake that he has committed when Lee and he battle an entire army of Triad henchmen. The Triads don't kill our heroes. They strip them naked and leave them to fend for themselves in Hong Kong traffic.

Happily, not only does "Rush Hour 2" boast more cleverly kinetic kung fu combat scenes for Chan, but also "Speed 2" scenarist Jeff Nathanson's screenplay concerns an international smuggling ring rather than a child kidnapping case and the thief of Chinese cultural artifacts. Don't get me wrong. Nathanson has contrived an action comedy as formulaic as they come. Clearly, nobody wanted to tinker with the surefire hit so they have beefed up action, plot, and characters while keeping the same situations. When Lee and Carter aren't bickering, they are kicking the crap out of the opposition. We know nothing on earth will prevent our heroes from triumphing over the villains, but the situations are funnier than before. In "Rush Hour," Chan's Chinese cop played the fish-out-of-water in Los Angeles. In "Rush Hour 2," Carter is the fish-out-of-water in Hong Kong. Carter's run-in with a street vendor trying to butcher a chicken for him is a real hoot. Moreover, the adversaries pose a greater challenge. Actress Zhang Ziyi, who electrified audiences as the martial arts maiden in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," excels as a despicable dragon lady who enjoys kicking Carter in his jive-talking mouth. Urbane Jon Lone, who hasn't played a villain since he menaced Christopher Lambert in "The Hunted" (1995), registers strongly as the treacherous Ricky Tan. The plot twist is that Tan once served as a Royal Hong Kong policeman; in fact, his partner was none other than Lee's murdered father!

"Rush Hour 2" proves a hundred times more entertaining than its 1998 blockbuster predecessor. Director Brett Ratner keeps the action balanced between Chan and Tucker. Pitting Ziyi against Tucker was a stroke of genius. Ratner wastes no time getting things going at a gung-ho pace and never lets the plot obstruct the action with complications. The opening combat sequence with Chan scrambling up bamboo scaffolding and battling several bad guys lacks the energy that Chan himself might have given had he been at the helm. Ratner redeems himself with the massage parlor fight. This is the fight that they'll have to top in "Rush 3." At age 47, Jackie Chan seems half his age, performing front and back flips while using ottomans and trash cans as weapons.

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