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Rush Hour 3   D

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Youki Kudoh, Max von Sydow, Yvan Attal, Noémie Lenoir, Zhang Jingchu, Tzi Ma.

Review by Rob Vaux

The latter-day Jackie Chan films have led me to a very depressing habit: watching closely to see if he still does his own stunts. Back in the day, Chan's staggering physical skills were presented to us in long unbroken shots -- proof, among other things, that he wasn't using cinematic trickery to cut corners. Lately, however, that reliable seal of quality has fallen by the wayside, a trend that Rush Hour 3 exploits most ruthlessly. The film's action scenes have been staged and edited as they would for any actor making copious use of a stand-in. As the fights ramp up, we cut away from close-ups of Chan's comically horrified face to an acrobatic money shot... staged a fair distance from the camera and featuring someone in Chan's outfit who never turns his face to us. Is it live or is it Memorex? Frankly, it doesn't matter: the very act of editorial manipulation renders the elegant grace of this one-of-a-kind performer inert. A few tattered remnants claw feebly from beneath, but whether by technical bumbling or the fact that Chan is no longer the man he once was, there is no magic left.

And without that, the overhyped, overrated, inexplicably successful Rush Hour films have exactly doodly squat going for them. We certainly can't depend on Chan's partner, walking minstrel show Chris Tucker, whose stunningly unfunny performance once again posits 19th-century racial caricatures as "daring" political incorrectness. His hustler cop James Carter can't direct traffic without screwing things up, but that's OK, because he's capering and dancing for our amusement! O promiscuous black man! So lazy and irresponsible! Hey, could you hunger insatiably for every woman who crosses your path, and blame other people for your constant array of man-child mistakes? Because that's the kind of comic genius that really gets those Klan rallies going.

Tucker's desperate thrashing is supposedly excused by the nominal chemistry he's established with Chan... chemistry that has subsequently been overblown like a Macy's Parade float. Rush Hour 3 treats the pair as the second coming of Hope and Crosby, when in reality they'd barely pass muster for a late '70s cop show. Whatever sparkle once existed has long since fizzled out, leaving them too bored to even play off each other properly. It's up to zany sidekicks like cabbie Yvan Attal to bolster their crumbling repartee, while the factory-issued script tosses them against a banal criminal conspiracy scheming to take over some damn thing or another. (It's basically just an excuse to have faceless Asians in white suits shoot at them while Chan looks put-upon and Tucker cracks lame jokes in that nails-on-the-blackboard falsetto of his that sets neighborhood dogs baying in agony.) As is often the case with franchises that have outstayed their welcome, this go-round adds a blandly exotic locale in an effort to gussy up the proceedings: in this case Paris, where director Brett Ratner can film both the Eiffel Tower and hordes of nekkid French chicks in identical tones of soft-focus sleaze.

I've been accused of giving Ratner a free ride in the past, mostly because he can handle other people's franchises without screwing them up too badly. With the Rush Hour films, however, he's stuck with his own creative vision -- which couldn't sustain a 30-second beer ad, no matter how many box-office figures he thrusts in our face. The first two entries in the series managed to convince people that they were somehow worthwhile, but their carcass has since been picked over so cleanly that even cannibalizing earlier shticks can't make the grade. So Rush Hour 3 turns to the strategy of a thousand hackfests past: stealing from classic movies and assembling the pieces like some mutant jigsaw puzzle in an attempt to feign originality. Half-baked Hitchcock pastiche abounds, along with an aborted retake on the hospital hit from The Godfather, a jive-talking nun straight out of Airplane!, and an excruciating variation of "Who's On First?" featuring two Asians named Yu and Mi.

Such desperation may not bother longtime fans, who ask for little and often receive it. But the material here makes one wonder how low you have to set the bar before it becomes irrelevant. The camera perks up a bit whenever a pretty girl crosses its vision, but so lasciviously does it linger and so unwholesome is Tucker's inevitable bug-eyed ogling that even such juvenile pleasures end up curdling one's blood. The kung-fu balletics show similar signs of life... and crush them just as quickly with the sad realization that Chan's day may finally be done. I suppose everyone involved in Rush Hour 3 did so willingly, and the big fat paychecks at the end of it all must have been nice. But no one cared about anything else here, and there's a word for transactions conducted in such a spirit. We'll just leave our money on the dresser, fellas; you and your movie can show yourselves out.

Review published 08.09.2007.

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