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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


There are some movies you go see and think: Wow, that was great!. Then you go to see the sequel and think: That was great too! I’d like to see even more!. The Indiana Jones movies are like that. So are the Spider-Man films, the Jason Bourne adventures, and the Austin Powers series. Then there are the movies where you go to see the sequel and think: That was great too! And they’ll be pushing their luck if they try to do it again. For me, at least, that’s the Rush Hour series. I liked it the first time, liked it the second time, but had a feeling that there was nowhere new or fresh for the series to go. Rush Hour 3 proves me right. The picture simply re-does the exact same things its predecessors did in 1998 and 2001, except that none of it is as funny or entertaining anymore.

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker return as Chief Inspector Lee and Detective James Carter, respectively. The plot kicks off with an assassination attempt against a Chinese ambassador who is threatening to expose the notorious Triads (Chinese gangsters) to the World Criminal Court. At the behest of the man’s daughter – who was the child kidnapping victim in the original film - Lee and Carter head for Paris to search for a list known as Shy Shen, which contains the identities of leaders in the Triad crime operation. If they find it, there’s still a chance the criminals can be brought to justice. The information they need is presumably in the hands of a nightclub performer named Genevieve (Noemie Lenoir). Getting to her is difficult, considering that many Triad members, including one with a past connection to Lee, are trying to kill them.

The cops not only have to fight for their lives, but they also have to deal with a snooty French detective (played by Oscar winning director Roman Polanski) and an American-bashing cab driver. Before the movie is over, the good guys and the bad guys all convene at the top of the Eiffel Tower for a fight that will have vertiginous audience members clinging nervously to their armrests.

The appeal of the original Rush Hour was the strangely fascinating combination of laconic action hero Chan and motor mouth comic Tucker. Their chemistry was so unusual and so unexpected that you couldn’t help but be entertained by it. It was clear that Chan, like his character, didn’t really understand English all that well and was therefore confused by much of Tucker’s comedic rambling. No wonder the series’ catch phrase is “do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

Rush Hour 2 didn’t try to reinvent the wheel; it merely switched the playing field from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, thereby casting Tucker as the odd man out on Chan’s home turf. The humor that time came from watching the brash American trying to assimilate into a culture that is more subdued and conservative. The sequel retained the charm of the original while flip-flopping the basic scenario.

Realistically speaking, those were the only two options available to the series. It’s like flipping a coin. You’re either going to get heads or tails. There is no third side. With no logical place to go, Rush Hour 3 simply repeats the first two movies. Chan and Tucker bicker at each other. There’s an action scene. Tucker busts out an R&B song (in this case, he does it two times). Another action scene. Chan expresses confusion over American slang. Action scene. There is not one single original idea in the whole picture.

It does not help that the stars don’t seem to be in tip-top shape. Jackie Chan’s action comedies have achieved great success in America, but his best films, which featured him performing some hardcore martial artistry and stunt work, have not had the same level of widespread exposure here. Regardless, Chan injured himself many, many, many times in the production of those movies. He’s now in his 50’s and clearly those injuries have taken their toll. You can tell that a stunt double is doing most of the work for him this time around. Aging and injuries have understandably slowed Chan down, but Chris Tucker is just downright rusty. The comedian has appeared in exactly three movies in the last ten years – all of them Rush Hours. Because we have seen him do nothing else in a decade, his screechy shtick feels more repetitive than welcome in this installment.

Supposedly it took a lot of effort to convince Tucker to sign on for a third part. What’s amazing is that when they finally got him, they stuck him (and Jackie Chan) into a haphazardly constructed plot filled with routine elements. I’m no expert on the Triads, but I do know that they are incredibly powerful and dangerous. In other words, great villains for an action picture. Rush Hour 3 introduces them, but never really does anything with the concept. Amazingly, the end credits start rolling after a mere 80 minutes. Certainly those endless credit bloopers could have been shortened to make more time for an actual story with menacing bad guys. It’s also worth noting that the screenplay trots out the creakiest cliché in the action movie handbook. There is a “surprise” villain here that I identified the very second he appeared on screen.

Rush Hour 3 isn’t horrible to sit through or anything; some of the action scenes arouse some interest (especially the Eiffel Tower fight), and there’s the occasional funny line of dialogue. Also, as one who enjoyed the first two pictures, I have a certain amount of goodwill toward the franchise, even at its weakest. My problem is that the formula has grown stale and no one involved wants to admit it. What once seemed new and exciting has become pedestrian. Watching the movie, I was only reminded of how much I liked the original two entries. Even Chan and Tucker seem bored by it all now, and so does director Brett Ratner. They’re not making a movie anymore; they’re following a formula. Rush Hour 3 is the movie equivalent of a paint-by-numbers picture. No matter how much color you slap on top of it, you can always see the numbers guiding you underneath.

( out of four)

Rush Hour 3 is rated R for sequences of action violence, sexual content, nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Rush Hour 3

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