RUSH HOUR 3
Reviewed by Sam Hatch
Just in case this summer didn't contain enough threequels on its slate, in rolls another Rush Hour film pairing comedian Chris Tucker and martial arts superstar Jackie Chan. In a bizarre twist, Tucker has been absent from the silver screen for past six years, ever since his second turn as LAPD Detective James Carter in Rush Hour 2. During the interim he's spent considerable time as an activist in Africa working alongside high-profile celebrities such as Bono. Interestingly, his work with Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour films helped him gain fame in Africa in the first place, since Chan is extremely popular there, as he is in most corners of the world.
Chan is also nearing his mid-fifties, so forgive him if he seems to be slowing down a bit. He unfortunately couldn't crack the nut of American cinema until the past decade, by which point he had already endured three lifetimes of stuntwork insanity and bodily damage in his native Hong Kong. So it's easy to forgive the guy if he begins to kick it down a notch or two. Luckily, he can also rely on his comedic talents to accommodate the imbalance. Not to say that Jackie refrains from fighting in Rush Hour 3 or doesn't partake in a few crazy stunts. The guy's a legend for a reason, and even in his fifties he's an agile, spry whirlwind of energy.
Rush Hour 3 begins quite some time after the events of the second film. Jackie's Hong Kong supercop Chief Inspector Lee still works with Tzi Ma's (The Ladykillers, 24) Ambassador Han, and now harbors a grudge against his old partner Carter. (Apparently Lee was dating Rush Hour 2's Isabella Molina character, whom Carter accidentally shot whilst in New York) Carter is now relegated to traffic cop duty, which he performs with eyes closed while listening to his iPod and singing and dancing along to Prince's “Do Me, Baby”.
So much in these movies relies on the fun chemistry between Tucker and Chan, so the script by returning scribe Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can) wastes no time in giving them a hasty reunion. Ambassador Han and Lee arrive at the World Criminal Court (headed by Max Von Sydow's French Foreign Minister Reynard) where the former man promises to spill information regarding a Chinese Triad legend called Shy Shen. His speech is cut short by a bullet, and off runs Jackie for dustup number one.
Unfortunately, the would-be assassin is known to Inspector Lee, who is reluctant to pull the trigger on a man he once considered his brother. Sunshine and Twilight Samurai actor Hiroyuki Sanada plays the enigmatic Kenji, a long-haired badass who looks as if he's stepped straight out of a classic Japanese anime. Sanada is simply wonderful, and lends as much gravitas as he can to the otherwise helium-filled script. He's the best foe of the entire series, and when he faces off against Jackie the energy crackles on screen.
Han's feisty daughter Soo Yung then returns to the series, though now she's portrayed by Zhang Jingchu (Tsui Hark's Seven Swords) and has aged considerably since the events of Rush Hour. (Carter comments that she's in need of a bra) She finds herself once again a target of a villainous organization, and sends Carter and Lee off to her martial arts dojo to retrieve important information from her locker before the bad guys do.
The following scene is a lighthearted romp that is also indicative of why this series is so much fun. Chan and Tucker are forced to do battle with a lumbering giant of a man (gargantuan Maryland Nighthawks basketball player Sun Ming Ming) before Carter becomes embroiled in a silly homage to “Who's on First?” involving two characters named Mi and Yu. My sole disappointment with this section of the film was that Don Cheadle's character from the second film wasn't able to return for another cameo.
There is, however, a relatively funny scene with an older nun acting as a French translator for Carter and Lee while they torture and harass a kidnapped suspect. Once all leads point to Gay Paree, the two cops quickly hop onto the next international flight for a ton of new fish out of water gags. Thankfully, once the film promises a series of wacky hijinks in France, it delivers (although many scenes were shot in LA studios), unlike the second film – which promised action in Hong Kong then surreptitiously moved the events back to America as soon as possible.
Hostile reactions to Americans are personified in the cab driver they employ in Paris, played by director, actor and husband to Charlotte Gainsboug Yvan Attal (My Wife Is An Actress, Bon Voyage). His scenes generate plenty of laughs as he evolves (or devolves) from a stodgy anti-Yank Frog into a thrill-seeking, Knicks hat-wearin' yahoo who yearns to be an American and ‘kill somebody for no good reason'. Fellow actor/director Roman Polanski also appears briefly as the invasive Inspector Revi, though I must say that it is weird hearing a guy who probably should be in prison threaten to imprison other people.
Relative newcomer to the screen Noemie Lenoir plays Genevieve, a stick-thin, gambling cabaret star who sometimes resembles Scarlett Johansson. Carter makes her acquaintance in the shady nightclub Chandelle and sloppily attempts to woo her over the course of the film. Lenoir offers a passable performance, and later when she appears bald while wielding a pistol, she looks pretty cool as opposed to someone like the creepily thin assassin from The Transporter 2.
Lee tangles with the club's owner Jasmine (Snow Falling On Cedars' Youki Kudoh in an underdeveloped role) while Carter makes feeble attempts at playing Baccarat. The ensuing fight scene is one of Jackie's best, and is humorously misinterpreted as a sex romp by Carter when he puts his ear to the door later on. These scenes are somewhat reminiscent of some of the material in Shanghai Knights, another film that relied on pairing Jackie with a comedic partner (in that case, Owen Wilson – speaking of which, where the heck is Shanghai Dawn?).
There aren't a ton of plot twists, and the ones that do arrive are fairly predictable (especially one involving Von Sydow), but the name of the game is setting up a solid finale and letting the mayhem ensue. Unable or unwilling to avoid inevitability, director Brett Ratner instead embraces the cliché of filming at the Eiffel Tower and stages the ultimate showdown there. And it looks great – the golden sulphurous glow of the tower makes for a very cinematic location. And whereas most other films have shown the tower in daylight, opting for a night shoot definitely adds some verve to the mix. And while the ultimate showdown between Lee and Kenji thrills more than adequately, it's also refreshing to see Tucker receiving plenty of screen time fighting baddies on his own.
Chan and his stunt team definitely know what they're doing. There's some exhilarating footage with Jackie squirreling about the steelwork frame of the tower, and even something as mundane as a flag is seen as something else through his imaginative eyes. Jackie first uses the gigantic banner as an escape device, but later employs it as a makeshift parachute. It's unfortunate that Hollywood insurance laws ensure that plenty of the scene is done via computer graphics, for surely the old Jackie of his Hong Kong heyday would have done it all for real (take a peek at the hot air balloon gag from the end of Armour Of God for a taste of the guy's insanity).
Brett Ratner, director of all three Rush Hour films (as well as X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Money Talks and The Family Man) is generally reviled by critics. I've never found him all that odious, though one thing that I find odd is that the DVDs of his movies usually always come with at least one featurette explaining what a genius he is. In truth, there is no particular Ratner style – I could never look at a film and say “That's Ratner” the same way I could with somebody like David Fincher. Still, he is perfectly capable of generating acceptable widescreen framing. And I can't knock the guy for dating scores of girls or even being an overt namedropper. While I'll probably never buy into the 'Ratner as Genius' propaganda found on his videos, I can't buy into the 'Ratner as Satan' hype either - and he nevertheless gets the job done.
As do Tucker and Chan. After a six year gap between films, I was somewhat apprehensive about the necessity of another Rush Hour film – but once it gets rolling it's hard not to enjoy the ride. I find it superior to the second film, if only for the addition of Hiroyuki Sanada and the fact that it delivers what it promises. (It's also a bonus that Enter the Dragon composer Lalo Schifrin returns to the musical fold once more.) The tension between Sanada's Kenji and Chan's Lee ably mirrors the oftentimes reluctant partnership of Lee and Carter, but the backstory also reflects the reality of Jackie Chan's Chinese Opera upbringing and his real world brotherly rivalry with fellow martial arts actor Sammo Hung.
I'm not sure if this particular series has enough life left in it for another go, but it is refreshing to see Jackie Chan still hopping around like a monkey after all these years. The guy's been pushing the envelope forever, and should probably be dead by now. Here's hoping there will be a few more moments of cinematic lunacy ahead of him. Likewise, it would be nice to see Chris Tucker take on more roles. He's starting to mellow a bit with age, and isn't nearly as obnoxious as his Ruby Rhod character from The Fifth Element. It's nice to see that his chemistry with Chan is still as potent as ever, and it's equally nice to find that Rush Hour 3 still delivers a bit of a rush, if not the pure thrill of the first film.