Prior to watching Rush Hour 3, I sat real low in my seat and took a look around the theater. This particular screening had a section roped off for critics, and everyone around us were, for lack of a better description, your average urban moviegoer. Essentially, the target audience for a film like this. My row, the one in front and one in back, consisted of white, middle-aged (or older) film critics; some of whom spoke about their tickets to an upcoming opera. And that's when it dawned on me -- these people are going to hate Rush Hour 3. Say what you want about film critics, but a 60 year-old guy in a sports jacket with tickets to the opera is not going to dig Chris Tucker making bootie jokes while trying not to direct traffic. The rest of the audience, however, devoured the Tucker/Chan shtick as if it were the best all-you-can-eat buffet in town. Sadly, I wasn't as hungry.
It took six years and millions of dollars to convince Chris Tucker to return to his most lucrative role, and fans of the actor will be happy to see him back doing what he does best: shouting ... loudly. The story is exactly the kind you'd expect from a third installment; Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 2) returns with a script that felt as if it were ripped out of a Food Network recipe book: 1) Take the African-American male and the Asian male, then combine using a mixture of ethnic jokes, wild stunts and predictable villains. 2) Microwave on high for 90 minutes. 3) Plate your dish, and garnish with something pretty so that the audience is convinced what they're watching is something fresh and original, instead of old, stale and repetitive. 4) Serve your meal with a smile, and cross those fingers -- $25 million is a lot of money for a piece of meat that's been sitting in the freezer for six years. Enjoy!p>
You don't really need to see Rush Hour or Rush Hour 2 in order to follow the plot; basically, the film picks up not long after the previous one left off. Detective James Carter (Tucker) and Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) have since returned from their trip to New York and the former has been designated for traffic cop duty, while the latter is playing bodyguard to Ambassador Han, an old friend from the first film. Also returning from the original is the Ambassador's daughter, Soo Yung, who's since grown up to teenager-size. When the Ambassador is shot during an important speech (in which he was about to disclose the leaders of the dangerous Chinese Triad organization), Carter and Lee once again become entangled in a track-down-the-bad-guys adventure -- sending them all the way to Paris, and to a place where the language barrier is the least of their problems.
And speaking of problems, I could spin around thirty times, blindfolded, and still find my way through the story without missing a step. The so-called twists and turns could've been performed better by a two year-old with a hoola-hoop, and the gags ("Are they seriously doing a 'Who's on First' bit?" "Are we still supposed to find Jackie Chan's attempt at "ghetto" slang humorous?" "If Miss Piggie was left bloody and beaten on the side of the road, would Tucker's Carter character try to have sex with her, too?) were just not that funny. And I'm not some 60 year-old in a stuffy sports jacket -- I'm just a guy who expects more from a successful buddy-cop franchise on its third pass around the multiplexes. I'll give them Roman Polanski; watching him slide on plastic gloves in preparation for a "Welcome to Paris" rectal exam was beyond hilarious. But how many people will actually get that joke? I'm not even sure Polanski himself got the joke, because why in the world would he agree to take on such a role in the first place? It's, um, degrading.
And so is the entire film, to a certain degree. At times, it's extremely anti-American (although the Parisian cab driver played by Yvan Attal was a highlight), and the "You no speak English?" stuff has really run its course. I respect the choice to up the ante as far as language barriers go (by sticking Carter and Lee in a foreign country), but they didn't explore this enough. The parts they did include were horrifically cliché, and not even Chan's amazing stunt-work could save it. Fact is, Chan is getting a tad old now; while his fighting sequences were, as always, fun to watch, they're nothing like they used to be. I also despise the way Brett Ratner shoots high-speed action scenes. With all the spastic camera changes and frantic cutting, it's impossible to embrace the stunts, and the fights, because we can't see them.
But some would argue that the Rush Hour films are not about the action; they're about the chemistry -- as is the case with any enjoyable buddy-cop film. Chan and Tucker really do have great on-screen chemistry, and throughout all three films, they've managed to work off one another extremely well. With a different director and a more focused story, the film could've held up a lot better. As it is now, it's just a messy plate of leftovers fancied up to include the number three in the title. So if you're not afraid to get your hands dirty, throw a bottle of Tums in your pocket and chow down.