When money comes calling to movies, inevitably, so do sequels. With the charismatic Chris Tucker and death-defying Jackie Chan teaming up once again, Brett Ratner's "Rush Hour 2" doesn't seem like such a hideous idea. As in the mildly entertaining, instantly forgettable original, the camaraderie between Tucker and Chan-- two unlikely partners and friends--is the biggest reason to see this big-budget sequel that is likely to drive in audiences just as the first did. While the actors are wonderful together, and their oil-and-water antics often comical, the story they have been put in is a nonsensical one that features nothing resembling substance or originality. The lack of focus in "Rush Hour 2" unveils its sole reason for being: to cash in on what is the studio's latest successful franchise.
As the story gets underway, Hong Kong Detective Lee (Jackie Chan) and the LAPD's wisecracking James Carter (Chris Tucker) have their vacation to Lee's homeland cut short when a bombing that kills two people puts them on the trail of Triad boss Ricky Tan (John Lone). Along with his nasty henchwoman Hu Li (Zhang Ziyi), Ricky is not going to go down without a fight, and Lee and Carter are not going to give up until their man has been caught.
The most accurate adjective to describe "Rush Hour 2" is "by-the-numbers." From the one-liners between Lee and Carter, to the fish-out-of-water premise, to the copiously littered action sequences, the movie is practically a carbon copy of the predecessor, which stands as both a positive and negative thing. On the plus side, director Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson know exactly how to give audiences the savvy elements they have come to expect in such a buddy comedy. The caveat with going this route, however, is that there seemingly has been no attempt to have the picture stand on its own two feet. The jokes in "Rush Hour 2" are, more or less, recycled from 1998's "Rush Hour," and aside from the agreeability of the interactions between Lee and Carter, the characters have no room to breathe and stand out from the restrictive confines of the story.
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are, no doubt about it, one of the great present-day motion picture teams. Tucker, mugging charmingly for the camera, is a comedian who definitely grows on you, and his outright energy that is put into his scenes allow it to brighten up considerably. Chan is just as vital a part of their union, the straight man to Tucker's funny man who actually has a sly sense of humor himself. The characters in which Tucker and Chan portray might as well be named "Chris" and "Jackie," though, as they appear to be playing slightly more off-the-wall versions of themselves. The smaller roles are all unextraordinary and underdeveloped, with the only one worthy of note being Zhang Ziyi (who won acclaim in 2000's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), as the ferociously beautiful, tough, and psychotic villainess, Hu Li. Ziyi has next to no dialogue, but she inhabits her role with an undeniably mesmerizing presence that breaks through, full throttle, in her nicely choreographed fight sequences.
While there are a few instances that show off Chan's incredible martial arts bravado (he has been widely publicized to perform all of his own stunts in every one of his films), there are not nearly enough of them, choosing to almost always go for the comedy in any situation. And because Lee and Carter are playing the wholly defined protagonists, there is little sense of suspense or possible endangerment to either party. As a full-out comedy, the film works only some of the time (it commits the cardinal sin for simply trying too hard, and has end title bloopers that are far more amusing than anything in the narrative), and as an action film, it is passable, but less than awe-inspiring. "Rush Hour 2" leaves the door wide open for a third installment; let's hope the makers try harder next time before spending an insanely high $90-million on a story that has been told, quite frankly, to death.
©2001 by Dustin Putman