A film review by Craig J. Koban
RUSH HOUR 3
2007, PG-13, 91 mins.
Lee: Jackie Chan / Carter: Chris Tucker / Reynard: Max
von Sydow / George: Yvan Attal / Sister Agnes: Dana Ivey /
Police Chief: Roman Polanski
Certainly, Chan is unable to perform all of his own stunts in recent films, but that fact alone should not spell disappointment for anyone in the audience. If anything, the very notion that he is able to engage in Herculean feats of acrobatic ability decades after most athletes call it a career is noteworthy in itself. I remember one improbably difficult stunt in 2001’s RUSH HOUR 2 where the nimble Chan had to hurl himself, feet first, all the way through a narrow bank teller slot. I have found it difficult just to get my hands underneath that opening to retrieve my change; Chan achieves the mind-boggling by flying his entire frame through it.
It is for small scenes like that one, along with countless others in many of his great films, why I have more respect for Chan than any other living actor. As his very famous outtakes that occur at the tail end of his films demonstrate, no other modern performer has put his very livelihood on the line for his craft than he has. Oftentimes I can't decide what I marvel at more: the initial sight of the stunt performed in the film or the near-fatal injury that he suffered as a result of the stunt as shown in the credit bloopers. I fondly - and cringingly - recall one stunt in THE ARMOR OF GOD where the intrepid Chan fell head first from a tree, fractured his skull, and forever afterwards had to walk the earth with a permanent hole in his head. Name one other action star that has not only put a hole in their skull, but has also broken their fingers, toes, nose, both cheekbones, hips, sternum, neck and ribs on multiple occasions. If anything, Chan not only deserves respect, but he seems to instantaneously get it by default.
All of this brings me to RUSH HOUR 3, Chan’s third teaming with co-star Chris Tucker and director Brett Ratner. The very first RUSH HOUR from way back in 1998 represented a very successful penetration of the Hollywood market for Chan, whose previous efforts to make solid mainstream US films were lackluster. The film was an effective appropriation of the classic cop/buddy formula pictures that dominated the 1980’s. You know, the kind where two hopelessly different cops with divergent backgrounds, tastes, and sensibilities are forced to team up and, despite their seemingly insurmountable opposition with one another, are able to overcome all, become great friends and allies, and save the day.
The first film overcame the monotony of its formula because of its two appealing leads. Chan has already made a career out of playing goofy, affable everymen caught in extraordinary circumstances, but when he was matched with Tucker, he had someone else with gifted comic timing to work with. As individuals, the two stars worked marvelously as foils to one another. Tucker, who reminded me considerably of a young Eddie Murphy in the first two RUSH HOURS, has that sort of indescribably cocky, macho, motor-mouthed exterior that was infectiously funny. Tucker’s Carter was the hotheaded and oftentimes naïve cop to Chan’s rational and focused investigator from China. As a fish out of water film, RUSH HOUR never walked into new territory, but it was entertaining to see two gifted performers work with and off of one another to great effect. The real reason to see RUSH HOUR was not only for Chan’s acrobatic skills, but because he and Tucker had such good chemistry.
The second RUSH HOUR, equally pleasurable as the first, took the same formula and turned it upside down on its head. This time it was Carter that was the fish out of water in China. Now comes RUSH HOUR 3, which makes both of the hero cops fishes out of water by sending them to France, complete with cameo by exiled, Oscar winning director Roman Polanski, who has the dubious task of performing a full body cavity search on the two as they enter the country. Polanski has been a rare commodity in American films (his last appearance in one was 1992’s BACK IN THE USSR and previous to that was his own CHINATOWN), so I guess it's inevitably disappointing to see that he is reduced to a merely one-scene gag where he puts on a rubber glove, mugs the camera, and proceeds to stick his two fingers where the sun never, ever shines.
Yes…yes…RUSH HOUR 3 is in the tradition of its two prequels in the way it’s an action/comedy, but the main problem with the film is that it never achieves a series of sustained laughs and chuckles that the other two films had. RUSH HOUR 3 does have some memorable moments, as is the case where Carter, now reduced to being a traffic cop, shows how bumbling of a traffic cop he is, or another scene where Carter thinks a rather violent encounter that Chan has with a female assassin is a sexual fling. Another moment with Chan showing his reaction to Carter after he states how he now has a Chinese lifestyle is kind of giddy (“If you're half Chinese, I'm half black. I'm your brother and I'm fly. You down with that, Snoopy? That's dope, innit?).
There is another scene where Carter has a battle with a nearly 8-foot-tall behemoth that gets some chuckles (“This guys on steroids! His head is bigger than Barry Bonds!”). There is a very inspired dialogue exchange between Carter and two martial arts masters that would have made Abbott and Costello proud. Both are respectively named Mei and Yu and the sequence involving a battle of wordplay with their names works as an affectionate homage to the "Who’s on first" routine. Finally, there's probably one of the best one-liner’s of the year where Carter tries to interrogate a French-speaking Chinese man. When he realizes that he is speaking French, he slaps him and screams, “You’re Asian, stop humiliating yourself!”
There are laughs to be had with RUSH HOUR 3, but the age and redundancy of the franchise is definitely starting to show. The Tucker/Chan character dynamic – albeit fun to watch again – never really dives into any fresh or invigorating comedic territory. At least the first two films had some comic mileage out of both being wet-behind-the-ears while in the other’s country, but RUSH HOUR 3 never explores the hilarious potential of the two being cultural novices in France. Instead of dealing with that, the film places unwarranted emphasis on its conspiratorial plot, which involves an assassination attempt, high ranking government diplomats, a gorgeous woman, a taxi driver that wishes he were Dirty Harry, and plot revelations that can be seen from a hundred miles away. From a narrative perspective, RUSH HOUR 3 is a lame duck sequel. The plot is never once compelling or interesting, and the rest of the film runs on automatic pilot behind it. This unfortunately drains out much of the overall enjoyment of the film. Chan still is a sight to behold while flinging his body around, and Tucker creates huge laughs with relative ease, but their talent alone is dwarfed by lame and insipid storytelling.
The paint-by-numbers story has Chief Inspector Lee (Chan) protecting a very important Chinese diplomat (once again played by Tzi Ma, who reprises his role from the first film) during his stay in Los Angeles. Apparently, the diplomat has some secret Intel about the infamous Triade crime syndicate. He is about to divulge it to the political world but is shot by an assassin. After a spectacular foot chase with Lee and the assailant, whom we later learn has a special relationship with him, Lee hooks up with his old trouble making American partner, Detective James Carter (the infectiously droll Tucker), who is now a lowly traffic cop. When the two arrive at the hospital, they meet up with the ambassador’s daughter, Soo Yung (the same one that was kidnapped in the first RUSH HOUR, now all grown up and played by Zhang Jingchu) and they vow to bring her dad’s would-be killer to justice.
Of course, this brings them to peruse the assassin, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who leads a Triade cell in Paris. The two then follow the trail to France, but have a bit of a tough time making it through airport security. Eventually, they gain some unlikely allies in the form of a rigidly and faithfully anti-American cabbie named George (Yvan Attal), who slowly gets addicted to Lee and Carter’s adventurous lifestyle. The plot goes through the rest of its mechanical motions and culminates predictably at the most famous landmark in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, where we get some decent stunt work and action, and an ingenious use of a large flag by Chan in one of his most clever sight gags. We also get a lot of shoddy CGI (not good for a Chan film) a kidnapped Ambassador's daughter, and Max von Sydow is thrown into this contrived mix, playing a marginal part whose motivations are not the least bit surprising when revealed.
Despite the film’s detrimental and lackluster story, it would be too easy to label RUSH HOUR 3 as a complete failure. The film still generates decent laughs, and although Chan’s abilities have seriously diminished, the film still has some exciting action sequences. I especially liked an early scene involving a three way battle between Lee, Carter, and what has to be the biggest cinematic martial artist ever, played by real life "world’s tallest man", Sun Ming Ming, measuring at 7 feet, 9 inches. An early car chase sequences through the streets of Paris is energetic, and the climatic battle between Lee and Kenji is fairly thrilling. Again, seeing a well past his prime Chan throwing his body in harm’s way is engaging, even if it appears that his usage of stunt doubles has increased exponentially with every new film. But at 53, can you hold that against him him?
Yet, RUSH HOUR 3 breathes with the same level of redundancy that has plagued other mishandled and second-rate third films in a franchise. The film has laughs and some genuinely good stunts, but its meager and woefully underwritten script involving all forms of rudimentary elements takes you out of the film. Brett Ratner, who has shown himself to be an intermittently decent director (he helmed the first two RUSH HOURS, plus the very under-rated RED DRAGON and the unfairly chastised X-MEN III: THE LAST STAND) is a competent director who paradoxically seems both above this material and right at home with it. Instead of letting this martial arts/action comedy trilogy end with a bang, Ratner, Chan and Carter unceremoniously conclude things with a derivative and mediocre effort that lacks enthusiasm and ingenuity. Make no mistake about, I will always give Chan four stars for effort, and RUSH HOUR 3 is no exception. It’s just a shame that the film around him and co-star Tucker only deserves half of that grade.
CrAiGeR's ranking of the
1. 2. RUSH HOUR (1998)
2. RUSH HOUR 2 (2001)
3. RUSH HOUR 3 (2007)