Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Suspended in Traffic: The Painful Complacencies of Rush Hour 3

Designed for the late summer jaded filmgoer, this Asian-African-American fusion high concept cop buddy flick reunites Jackie Chan with Chris Tucker for one reason and one reason only—because the previous two films made money. At one time, I used to admire Tucker’s work in such movies as “The Fifth Element.” His high-pitched voice, squeaking scat-style improvisations, and fluid dance moves contrasted with Bruce Willis’s mono-syllabic machismo nicely, but now he makes over 10 million to recycle Rush Hour hash. Couldn’t he find something better to do?

Originally a Hong Kong stunt man, then an action star known for performing his own dangerous stunts, Jackie Chan crossed over to the US with Jackie Chan’s First Strike, where he climbs walls and fights memorably with a standing ladder. A kind of amiable Bruce Lee, Chan now seems to endure this series with grim persistence, suffering the cartoonification of Hong Kong cinema for profit.

By now, 6 years after Rush Hour 2, everyone involved in this franchise seems tired in advance. The director, Brett Ratner, shows little ability to construct a scene or build to a punch line, nor does he seem to care. Clearly the writers didn’t know what to do, so they rip off the “Who’s on first” comedy sketch by Abbot and Costello, and they recycle a maiden-in-distress/infiltration of enemy gang plot, transposing the action to Paris because it is someplace different, certainly not due to any cultural interest in the place. Young Soo Yung (Jingchu Zang) get James Carter (Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Chan) to pledge to find the man who shot her father just when he was about to give away the secrets of the Chinese Triad gangs to the World Criminal Court.

Before Lee and Carter take off to Paris, first they spend a half hour of movie time dithering around LA, visiting a Kung Fu training camp so that they can be attacked by a Chinese giant after Carter makes a crack about African-Americans being taller. There is one decent chase scene where Lee climbs down a wall, crosses freeway traffic, and slides under a garage door right before it falls on him, but then he discovers that the would-be killer is his own brother whom he understandably finds difficult to shoot, so the bad guy gets away.

Once in Paris, the movie heaps insult upon injury by having one of the great directors of modern times, Roman Polanski, randomly appear as a sadistic French detective Revi who tortures the two happy-go-lucky buddy cops with telephone books before giving both of them a painful anal exam. What is the movie saying at this point? That French officials are evil so that American audiences can feel superior? Walking awkwardly away from the Inspector, the two buddies hop into a cab just to find themselves chased by Chinese Triad gangsters with machine guns. The cab driver refuses to help them because America “lost the war in Iraq,” but soon enough he grows to appreciate a life of guns, action-movie clichés, and killing people pointlessly. Later, Lee and Carter visit a nightclub so that James can act like James Bond around French supermodel Genevieve (Noemie Lenoir), who seems oddly charmed by his boorish behavior.

So, what is good about the film? I liked the bloopers shown during the credits, perhaps because they provide the one spontaneous moment in the entire movie, and also because the ordeal of watching it was nearly over. Also, Jackie Chan humorously sings a cabaret song while dangling from a trapeze in the night club, but the rest was lame, inert, weary, and shameless, the kind of film that makes one regret the loss of 90 minutes of one’s short life. At one point, Lee and Carter jump into the Parisian sewers to evade capture, so they smell like merde. Exactly.

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