Rush Hour 3 (2007) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 90 min.

Cast: Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Max von Sydow, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yvan Attal, Youki Kudoh, Noemie Lenoir, Jingchou Zhang, Tzi Ma, Roman Polanski
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson

Review published August 13, 2007

See if you can spot the connection in the following two critical excepts:

From my review of Rush Hour: "The film suffers from the usual buddy movie clichés of having most viewer interest brought about from the interaction of the two leads amid the most threadbare and derivative of plots."

From my review of Rush Hour 2: "The film-making formula appears to be this:  come up with a semi-workable plot, work in some situations that might inspire something funny happening, plug in Tucker (Jackie Brown, Money Talks) and Chan (The Myth, Around the World in 80 Days) into these scenes, and then roll film and hope they ad-lib something amusing to use for the final film."

If you guessed that the Rush Hour series is popular primarily because of the irreverent repartee among the two film's stars more so than the plot itself, you'll understand why Rush Hour 3 is the lesser of an already mediocre series of action-comedies.  Although the first two films also had some nice action set pieces, people had a good time because of what the stars said to each other, as well as to the bad guys, that is done for our benefit.  Why the third time is not the charm has absolutely everything to do with the fact that the laughter is just not there this time out.  It's not because this is a more serious effort by any means, as the two players get plenty of opportunity to be funny, it's just that the material is weak, the situations less appealing from a comedic standpoint, and the jokes set up merely to remind you of the things you found funny in previous entries more so than in venturing into any new ground (save for the new city).

The first film had Lee (Chan) as the estranged Hong Kong cop in the middle of Los Angeles, linked up with loose-cannon LAPD detective James Carter.   Many jokes were regarding the difficulty for Lee to assimilate to Western culture, and the problems with communication between himself and Carter.  Rush Hour 2 was the mirror image of its predecessor, this time transplanting Carter to Hong Kong, resulting in virtually the same shtick, except with Carter as the one not not being completely in tune with his environs.  Rush Hour 3 rehashes this formula yet again, except this time, both of them are transplanted, now making their case in Paris, trying to find a Triad figure named Shy Shen, and the instigator of an assassination plot that has the men vowing revenge.  It's not a formula that works this time out because, outside of the fact that the French have a stereotype of hating foreigners (and Americans in particular), their culture isn't all that much of a contrast with most other Western metropolis locales.  The difference in cultures between Paris and Los Angeles are not nearly as large as that between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, especially when nearly all of its inhabitants are shown to speak English. 

Ironically, many Parisians tend not to speak English to non-French-speaking visitors, even if they understand it quite well.  Rush Hour 3 contains an instance where a French cab driver has a personal conversation with his also-French wife, trying to stay out of earshot of their English-speaking guests, and they conveniently converse in English.  This is one of many conversations done by people who mutually natively speak a non-English language to each other in English throughout the movie, and also one of the many reasons that this culture-clash comedy forgets its own fish-out-of-water roots by Americanizing just about every aspect of their environs.  One could claim it's to accommodate the multiplex-going audiences, but I think it's just plain laziness on the part of the filmmakers.

As far as the main reason the comedy doesn't work as well this time out, my feeling is that it's due to the fact that the makers of this film have, all along, expected Chris Tucker to bail them out.  Even when the action was weak and the plot too boring to follow, Tucker always proved worth watching, and his brashness contrasted well with Chan's soft-spoken good guy act.  I think that Nathanson's only task as screenwriter was to serve up a main plot, a few staple gags, and to allow plenty of room for riffing by the main stars throughout. 

Sadly, it doesn't work this time out because Tucker has lost much of his edge.  His eyes aren't as intense, his heavier frame not as lithe, and his wit not as quick.  Between the first Rush Hour and this film, he has only made one other film -- Rush Hour 2.  I guess when you command $20-25 million to star in one of these films, your need to jump into work isn't going to be as great.  Whatever he was doing in between Rush Hour gigs is a mystery, but I think it's safe to conclude that it didn't consist of thinking of new material for Rush Hour 3.  When he does decide to quip, it's generally some rather offensive material, such as his profiling of Iranians as terror threats, his dissing of a heavy-set girl, his jingoistic pro-American jibber-jabber to the French cab driver, his misogynistic whoring out of some female French dancers, and his homophobic tirades (he even goes so far as to threaten to beat up a woman he was getting physically intimate with if he should find out that she is a man).  And yet, with all of these prejudices and outward hatred of others, he gets most upset whenever someone insults him for being Black.  It's one thing to be irreverently politically incorrect, it's quite another to be patently offensive to others to the detriment of your own character, especially when it's done with such hypocrisy.

Suffice it to say, without much going for it in the comedy department, Rush Hour 3's tank hits empty in a hurry, and only some well-mounted fight scenes involving Chan save it from sinking to the lowest depths of the proverbial barrel in terms of superfluous sequels.  Both stars have noticeably aged in the nine years since the first film, but it's the younger Tucker who got old first, never seeming like he is interested in pushing himself any further than he already has as a comedian or entertainer, content to dole out the same old shtick that made him a star a decade ago. 

If there is a Rush Hour 4, it's going take some shoring up of the comedy in the screenplay to ensure at least some laughs, while someone other than Brett Ratner will have to take over to push Tucker's comedy to a new direction other than getting surlier and less likeable.  Even the sure-shot bloopers run during end credits have that "knowingly crafted to look like genuine gaffes" which, if truly the case, is further indicative of how bankrupt the comedy is when they can't even flub lines as funny as they used to.

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo