In their third and ostensibly last outing together, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker go through the motions of energizing the Rush Hour franchise, albeit with less physical action and much less apparent joy. Director Brett Ratner also returns following the first two Rush Hour installments that began in 1998 when Jackie Chan still possessed the youthful vigor to execute eye-popping stunts, and Chris Tucker was enough of a soprano-voiced anomaly to induce involuntary laughs whenever he opened his mouth.
It’s been six years since Rush Hour 2, and police officer Carter (Tucker) has been demoted to traffic cop, a job he treats with such dance-move-irreverence that car flow around his designated intersection doesn’t stand a chance. Agent Lee (Chan) is busy acting as bodyguard to Chinese Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) who suffers an assassination attempt while giving a speech before the World Criminal Court in Los Angeles where he was about to name the leader of an international crime ring. A foot chase across a busy highway puts Lee in striking range of the hit man, but he’s unable to shoot when he discovers that it is his “brother” Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), now aligned with the Triad crime gang working in Paris, France where Lee and Carter will soon follow.
The duo receive a rubber-gloved welcome to the Gallic country by its chief police inspector (well played in an uncredited cameo by Roman Polanski), and sustain a stream of insults toward America from their opinionated taxi driver George (Yvan Attal). But George changes his editorial tune after Lee appoints him “super spy” in order to escape a crew of Triad motorcyclists that knock the doors off the taxi in their hot pursuit. It’s the movie’s first major chase scene and although Ratner ramps up the stunts–a cyclist flies through the back of a truck and out of its front window–he doesn’t push the action to the degree that modern audiences have come to expect from watching films like The Transporter.
The series’ formula of carefully layered slapstick gags, mixed with Jackie Chan’s inimitable martial arts prowess, hits a high point during a snappy parlor room battle between Lee and gambling-club owner Jasmine (Youki Kudoh), a dragon lady with a spike-filled fan that she throws with blinding accuracy. Carter enthusiastically listens outside the door, thinking that the shouts and grunts emanating from inside are the effect of Lee’s love making efforts.
The scene is the closest the movie comes to achieving a Pink Panther brand of humor that the Rush Hour films identify with. But even here, the screenwriter and director squander an opportunity to infuse the sequence with personality. If Lee and Jasmine had some ongoing scintillating dialogue, we could have gotten a more satisfying sense of their characters during their battle-as-sex contest.
As with the first two movies, the third act climax is where the most sustained action is, and regardless of the flagging chemistry between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, it’s a payoff that works better than it has a right to. The Jules Verne restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower is the setting for a grand nighttime showdown that takes the action out onto the tower’s exposed support beams. The extended acrobatic battle gains visual momentum for the ingenious photography and CGI that believably place our heroes high above Paris on its most iconic structure.
There’s no denying that the producers waited too many years before making the final installment. It’s too late in Chan’s remarkable career for the martial arts master to perform the kind of stunts that his fans expect.
As a gifted physical comedian, there’s hope that the actor will find a new cinematic path to fulfill his talents. But Tucker’s limited comedic range seems to have a more difficult transition ahead because he has remained too reliant on the Rush Hour franchise for his bread and butter. MTW