Rush Hour 3 is a half-hour of brilliance, preceded by an hour of dreck.
That’s a roughly comparable dreck-to-brilliance ratio to the first two Rush Hour movies, I guess, and par for the course for Jackie Chan’s Hollywood films (and a fair number of his Asian ones). It’s just that the earlier Rush Hour movies are hit-and-miss throughout, whereas Rush Hour 3 is basically non-stop missing for an hour, saving all its hits for the end.
Fans of Jackie’s unique brand of action comedy could almost — no, I actually recommend that they do — buy their tickets an hour or so after showtime and stroll in to catch the last third of the film. What with pre-show trailers and advertisements, you don’t have to worry about missing any of the good stuff. And if you stick around for the end-credit outtakes, with the usual assortment of flubbed lines, botched stunts and horsing around, you’ll probably see all you need to of the first hour. Enough to piece together bits of the plot, such as it is, that might not be clear from the third act. Definitely enough to get a sense of the crudity of the first two acts, in case you had any doubts about the prudence of skipping them. That the outtakes are funnier than the rest of the film goes without saying.
Not that plot points are a major concern in a movie like Rush Hour 3, which is even more shapeless and haphazard than its predecessors. In the first two films, LAPD Dectective Carter (Chris Tucker) and Hong Kong Inspector Lee (Chan) took turns being the fish out of water: First Lee came to Carter’s LA stomping grounds, then Carter went with Lee back to Hong Kong. Now the boys take their odd-couple buddy-movie schtick to Paris, so they can both be the fish out of water. (You would have figured this out from the climactic fight scene at the Eiffel Tower.)
Once again, Lee and Carter are on the trail of a mysterious crime lord in the Asian underworld called the Triads. Once again, a trusted, patrician Caucasian official — in this case Max von Sydow (yes, that Max von Sydow) as a French foreign minister and World Criminal Court leader — is ultimately revealed to be the big bad guy. What? That is not a spoiler. As soon as von Sydow appears onscreen with Chan, you think: trusted, patrician Caucasian official — clearly the bad guy. In Rush Hour 2 Carter actually formulated an on-screen rule about it: “Follow the rich white guy.” They can’t expect us to be surprised now.
The opening scene, with Carter in uniform in the middle of a busy LA intersection, nominally directing traffic while in fact starring in his own imaginary music video listening to headphones, sets the tone for much of the next hour. Eyes closed, hips gyrating, grabbing his crotch, Carter writhes amid traffic until the inevitable happens and he finds himself surrounded by a multi-vehicle accident. Unfazed, Carter zeroes in on a convertible with a pair of scantily clad, curvaceous motorists, whom he cuffs and drapes over the hood of their car, then tries to set up for a double date with himself and Lee. He even confiscates their driver licenses as collateral to ensure that they show up for their date. Are you laughing yet?
Carter has always been a loudmouthed, obnoxious walking libido, but he sinks to new lows here, I think, or maybe I just don’t remember how low he got in the first two films. It was funny in the first film when Carter riffed on the notoriety of the LAPD: “We're the most hated cops in all the free world. My own mama's ashamed of me — she tells everybody I'm a drug dealer.” In this film, even the drug dealers, not to mention the LAPD, would be ashamed of Carter, who surely goes the whole film without once thinking of his mother’s shame.
The movie brings back a couple of familiar characters, including Lee’s friend Consul Han (Tzi Ma), whose daughter Soo Yung, now in her twenties (Jingchu Zhang), was kidnapped as a child (Julia Hsu) in the first film. We also meet Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a Triad crimelord whose personal history is closely linked to Lee's, and a pair of women with Triad connections (Noémie Lenoir, Youki Kudoh).
The first action sequence, a chase scene through the LA streets as Jackie tries to run down a sniper who nearly killed Consul Han, is energetic and has a few good moments, but nothing really special. Later, the search for the culprits leads Lee and Carter to an LA dojo, provoking surely the most pointless confrontation in Jackie’s Hollywood career, despite a towering opponent so outsized he looks like a Lord of the Rings camera trick rather than a real person (he isn’t; Chinese basketball player Sung Ming Ming of the Maryland Nighthawks really is 7'9"). There’s also a “Who’s on first?” sequence involving dojo master Yu (as in “I am Yu”). I cannot resist quoting the production notes: Producer Jonathan Glickman says: “They are virtually doing an Abbott and Costello routine… It has no place in any type of action movie you’ve seen before, but in Rush Hour, it’s perfect.” Yes. That is why they used the exact same joke in Rush Hour 2 (“You died!” “Inspector Yu died?!”).
There is one fairly clever verbal gag in which Lee and Carter, having captured an Asian assassin who only speaks French, are obliged to enlist the assistance of an older nun who speaks French so that they can interrogate him. The defiant thug spits vulgarities that the nun demurely conveys through euphemisms (“He used the n-word again”), prompting a furious Carter to respond in kind — but at Lee’s insistence, out of respect for the nun’s vocation, Carter must also restrict himself to euphemisms. Even a tired nun-speaking-slang joke at the end doesn’t entirely ruin the scene.
The trail then leads to Paris, a setting which the production notes mention provided inspiration for new possibilities for costuming fabrics. It also opens the door to new possibilities for lack of costuming fabrics. “Did you know the average French woman is naked 34 percent of the time?!” Carter asks on the flight, his nose in whatever sort of reading material contains such tidbits of information.
In Rush Hour 2, sequences in a Las Vegas casino and a Hong Kong massage parlor offered plenty of opportunity for gratuitous ogling of barely-clad showgirls and masseuses, but now we’re in Paris, where they can have actual topless showgirls if they want to (they want to). Rush Hour 3 is also the first Rush Hour in which Carter actually gets a woman in bed, although she doesn’t get a chance to get out of her skivvies. Jackie used to have a scruple about sex scenes in movies, because he wanted his films to be family-friendly. Oh well.
Franco-American relations are the butt of endless jokes in Rush Hour 3, which in the proud tradition of Team America brandishes its swaggering ugly-Americanisms like a badge of honor, and doesn’t do the French any favors, either. Upon arriving in Paris, Lee and Carter are summarily beaten — and rectally examined — by a snooty French police inspector played by Roman Polanski (yes, that Roman Polanski).
Afterwards, they stagger to a taxicab, where a stony Parisian cab driver named George (Yvan Attal) announces that he “doesn’t drive [Carter’s] kind” — meaning Americans, whom he dismisses as violent troublemakers who start wars and kill people for no reason. Carter’s outraged rebuttal is force the cabbie to sing the American national anthem at gunpoint. Later, though, after a high-speed car chase, George is electrified by the thrilling rush of American-style violence, and loses no time in acquiring a baseball cap and learning American slang. Alas, his wife may not let him kill anyone.
And so it goes, until the climactic confrontation at the Eiffel Tower, which contains what is surely the best extended sequence in Jackie’s Hollywood oeuvre. Happily, after two directorial misfires in which practically every action sequence in the first two films with pointless close-ups and quick cuts, returning director Brett Rattner seems at last to have learned his lesson, and gives Jackie room and time to do what he does best. (Perhaps Rattner learned a thing or two making X‑Men 3, as disappointing as it was.) The climax involves a sword fight much more satisfying than the one in Shanghai Knights, some inspired derring-do in and on the Eiffel Tower, and a climactic stunt that outdoes the big finales of both earlier films.
In the final shot, as Chan and Tucker yet again boogie to the strains of Edwin Starr’s War (“Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”), you might be momentarily struck by the ironic incongruity of a film that practically celebrates America’s violent image abroad having an anti-war anthem as its hallmark. At that point you should slap yourself in the head for thinking too hard, and sit back for the outtakes.
After fifteen years of trying, Jackie Chan finally broke into the U.S. market with Rumble in the Bronx and Jackie Chan’s First Strike; but it wasn’t until Rush Hour that he really connected with mainstream American audiences.
Rush Hour 2 follows so closely in the footsteps of its hugely successful predecessor that an actual review is practically unnecessary.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.