the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rush Hour 3

There is an old lynchpin of logic causality that states: just because you are capable of doing something, it does not necessarily follow that you must or should do that thing. Someone should have introduced that simple concept to Brett Ratner before he gathered up his team and traipsed halfway around the world to make yet one more tired retread in the Rush Hour franchise.

Rush Hour 3 opens on a gridlocked street in Los Angeles where Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) has been demoted to directing traffic. He doesn’t seem to mind. With earphones snuggly intact, he channels Michael Jackson’s moves, oblivious of the headlong rush of colliding cars all around him. Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) has been assigned as a bodyguard to Consul Han (Tzi Ma) who, while speaking before the World Criminal Court about the identities of the fearsome criminal organization, the Triads, is gunned down by an assassin.

While following the evidence trail, Carter and Lee, surely the unlikeliest of buddy movie buddies, reunite and wing their way to France where Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a blood brother from Lee’s past turns up as the sharp point of the Triad spear. Continuing with the “fish out of water” motif that framed the earlier films, assassins come out of the woodwork, chasing our heroes from one clichéd Parisian landmark to the next. The beautiful burlesque dancer Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir) holds the key to unraveling the secret of the Triads, if Carter and Lee can keep her alive long enough to get it from her.

It’s hard to take the action scenes in Rush Hour 3 seriously coming only a week after the phenomenal Bourne Ultimatum. While this film has its moments (a motorcyclist is launched from his bike, through an open van and onto a nearby car; a martial arts swordfight takes place high atop the latticework of the Eiffel Tower), most of the action is laughable compared to the where the bar has recently been set. The action works best when the film employs legitimate stunt work—when it relies on gags and CG work, the tension instantly vanishes. While Ratner tries to cut his action to mask its less than graceful nature, he cannot hide the fact that, while Chan can still do things with his body that defy explanation, he is over 50 years old and simply doesn’t move as fast or as easily as he once did. He still amazes, but he no longer has the ability to steal our breath away.

Carter and Lee spend most of the blessedly short 90 minutes bickering even though the film seems desperate to establish a camaraderie between the two as something akin to brotherhood. While Chan pulls off his role with a surprisingly serious aplomb, Tucker is as ridiculous as he ever was. Chan’s English is as indecipherable as Tucker’s overacting. The film involves a couple of cameos that defy explanation: the great Max von Sydow plays the head of the World Criminal Court, and has a character arc predictable from a mile away (somebody watched Minority Report one too many times); and renowned director and forced expatriate Roman Polanski shows up as a French police detective with an interrogation style straight out of Abu Ghraib.

Rush Hour 3 is a Frankenstein’s monster of a buddy/action movie, blatantly stealing scenes from as diverse a pool as Abbott and Costello to The Godfather and Star Wars. Inorganically episodic in nature, the film sacrifices plausibility (even in its own established, make-believe universe) for cheap laughs. There are cross-purposed political messages as well—one moment Carter is making legitimately offensive lines about Arabs as terrorists and the next a Parisian taxicab driver (Yvan Attal) delivers a vehement anti-American tirade about U.S. aggression which ends only when he decides the ultra-violent American lifestyle is appealing and killing another human being actually sounds like a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, the only real, genuine moments of humor come at the end of the film, during the outtakes. If you can’t laugh at Jackie Chan hurting himself on set, what can you laugh at?

Rush Hour 3 is a stagnate yet still commercially viable franchise. It arrives on your theater screen already infested with the mold of a dated, stale rehash. It’s not that Ratner is a bad director, despite what the slighted X-Men fanboys might say. It’s just that he seems consistently fated to choose material well beneath him. Oh, his movies make money and admittedly have fans, but until he makes films as sprawling as his reported ego, no one will ever take him seriously.


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