Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rush Hour is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick

As I indicated in what Jeff Wells has puckishly dubbed my “video-clip thingie,” sitting through Rush Hour 3 is a lot like watching a great right-fielder during the final season of a long career, or attending an oldies concert showcasing well-known bands that haven’t charted in decades: You can’t help noting that the smooth moves are slower these days, and you don’t get many surprising deviations from a playlist of crowd-pleasing riffs. But if you had a great time with the first Rush Hour, and at least a mildly enjoyable experience with Rush Hour 2, chances are good that this genially slapdash threepeat will float your boat. As Roger Ebert aptly notes in his review: “Once you realize it's only going to be so good, you settle back and enjoy that modest degree of goodness, which is at least not badness, and besides, if you're watching Rush Hour 3, you obviously didn't have anything better to do, anyway.”

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker are back as an odd couple of crimebusters who bridge their cultural gap – one’s an earnest Hong Kong lawman; the other, a motor-mouth L.A. cop – in order to combine their respective talents for ass-kicking and trash-talking. This time, they’re in Paris, seeking a list of names of Chinese Triad crime lords. But, really, that’s just an excuse for Chan to speak softly and carry a big kick while Tucker speaks loudly and does comic shtick. If that's the sort of thing you like, you probably will like Rush Hour 3.

To be sure, it’s mildly distressing to see Chan leaping and lunging a bit less gracefully (and a lot less frequently) than he used to. And it’s slightly unsettling to see a magnificently ravaged Max Von Sydow (cast here as a character whose true colors are too obvious by half) so soon after the recent death of Ingmar Bergman. But director Brett Ratner, following the same formula he used for the two previous films, laces the largely irrelevant action-adventure plot with bits and pieces of genuinely amusing nonsense. (Note Tucker’s very funny frustration during a cheeky variation of “Who’s on First?”) And the two leads continue to find ways of wringing big laughs from the running gag of their mismatched partnership, even when they're gleefully defanging racial stereotypes through shameless, self-aware exaggeration. (When the two buddies briefly split after a quarrel, Tucker comforts himself by ordering Chinese take-out while Chan dines on fried chicken and soul food.) Indeed, the laughter they elicit is just enough to almost completely drown the tell-tale sound made by franchise participants as they they scrape the bottom of the barrel after returning to the well one last time.

BTW: At one point in Rush Hour 3, there’s a scene in which a comically surly French cabdriver indulges in anti-American mockery of Tucker’s character. “You lost in Vietnam!” he rants. “And you lost in Iraq!” I realize, of course, that it’s always a risky task to parse a popcorn movie for explicit or implicit political commentary. But maybe it says something about the zeitgeist that neither Ratner nor Tucker saw the need for Tucker’s character to dispute the cabdriver’s taunt.

No comments: