Thursday, October 2, 2008


The third time around isn't the charm for New Line Cinema's action comedy "Rush Hour" franchise.

The Los Angles Police Department has demoted Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker of "The Fifth Element") to uniform status as a traffic cop. Of course, ultra-cool Carter has his own way of directing traffic to his favorite pop tunes until motorists misread his signals, collide with each other and grid-lock occurs.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan of "New Police Story") accompanies Chinese Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma of "Rush Hour") to L.A. as his personal bodyguard. "Rush Hour" fans will remember that Han relied on Lee's help in the first "Rush Hour." No sooner has Han taken the podium at the World Criminal Court than an assassin wounds him. Han, it seems, was about to reveal a top secret list of Triad family leaders to members of the World Criminal Court. The Triads, the largest criminal organization in Asia, have always served as the bogymen of the "Rush Hour" movies.

While the paramedics attend to Han, Lee chases the assassin into rush hour traffic. Carter spots Lee hoofing it through the streets and commandeers a sports car from a couple of babes. Together, Carter and Lee corner the assassin in an alley. Not only does Lee do a lousy job of shielding Ambassador Han, but he also lets the killer Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada of "The Last Samurai") escape during a back alley stand-off. Neither one can shoot the other, so where's the conflict? It seems that Kenji and Lee grew up in the same orphanage. Lee has a soft spot for his old friend who has taken a different path in the world.

Later, our resourceful heroes corner a second-string villain in the hospital where doctors are treating Han. The Asian killer only speaks French. Lee and Carter persuade a middle-aged Catholic nun to act as their translator. Naturally, foul-mouthed Chris Tucker has to censor his own language before he can ask the nun to translate it, with lines like "You tell this piece of S-word that I will personally F-word him up!" Indeed, the profanity has been imaginatively hyphenated, and Tucker's hysterical delivery makes it sound hilarious. Tucker's best scene is his masquerade in a French night club as a costume designer who decides to dress the dancers according to their corresponding hair color. At the same time, Jackie Chan gets to duck knives and mountaineer about on the Eiffel tower, but neither qualifies as hair-raising scenes. Watch the Jackie Chan movie "New Police Story" if you want to see Chan perform some truly extraordinary stunts.

Basically, "Rush Hour 3" (** out of ****) doesn't top 2001's "Rush Hour 2" for a number of reasons. Indeed, "Rush 2" still remains Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker's finest hour. They proved that their kinetic comic chemistry in the original "Rush Hour" was no fluke.

First, "Rush Hour 2" topped 1998's "Rush Hour." Sadly, "Rush Hour 3" isn't even as entertaining as "Rush Hour." Moreover, "Rush Hour 2" cemented a surefire formula that New Line Cinema apparently chose to ignore; namely, let Jackie Chan demonstrate his martial arts wizardry and let Chris Tucker do his screaming, ghetto caricature of Eddie Murphy.

Second, don't delay another sequel for six years! Although the plot covers less than a week, spontaneity is sadly missing from "Rush Hour 3." Jackie Chan doesn't stage any new marital arts routines, and stunt coordinator Conrad Palmisano stages fight scenes that will make you yawn rather than flinch.

Third, Chris Tucker is given more flat jokes than funny ones. The African-American comedian does the best that he can with some pretty lame material. However, this time neither Tucker no Chan bicker with about racism. Unlike the early "Rush Hour" movies, they are both fish-out-of-water here when the intrigue takes them from Los Angeles to Paris, France. Legendary Oscar winning director Roman Polanski has a walk-on role as an unsavory Parisian police chief. The French police intercept our heroes before they leave the airport, and Polanski snaps on his rubber gloves to make sure that they aren't hiding anything.

Fourth, nothing about "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner's recent success with the third "X-Men" movie seems to have rubbed off onto "Rush Hour 3," except for the running time. Ratner deserves some credit for bringing "Rush 3" in at brisk 87-minutes. This action comedy doesn't wear out its welcome, primarily thanks to its charismatic leads. Unfortunately, the good jokes are fewer and farther between for the third outing. The comic chemistry between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker hasn't diminished an iota. Tucker reminds Chan the he's his brother from another mother. The amusing "You & Me" gag imitates the classic Abbott & Costello "Who's on First" routine, but "Rush Hour 2" had already used it first.

Fifth, "Rush Hour 2" scenarist Jeff Nathanson's shoddy screenplay lies at the bottom of "Rush Hour 3." Since Nathanson did everything right in "Rush Hour 2," he presumably got sloppy and did just everything wrong in "Rush Hour 3." The tension, suspense, and surprises that made "Rush Hour 2" clearly superior to "Rush Hour 3" are absent in this slipshod second sequel. The babes are neither as sexy nor as lethal. Ratner, who has helmed all three "Rush Hour" comedies, puts roughly the same stuff in the same places, right down to the explosions. Nevertheless, Nathanson and he ignored the formula that relies heavily on Chan's unique martial artistry and the basics of any good thriller: a treacherous villain and a demanding objective.

Don't rush out to see "Rush Hour 3."

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