1998's "Rush Hour" was a genuinely entertaining movie. It didn't break any new ground, but it had a simple and straightforward story with an emotional center to it. It featured some great martial arts partnered with some pretty funny wisecracking comedy. Good action was balanced with good humor.
2001's "Rush Hour 2" attempted to bring or re-create that same balance, which it accomplished to a degree, but the emotional center was somewhat lost here. The plot got a little too convoluted, if not complicated, for me to care. The film really suffered when it became obvious that the screenwriter and director were merely repeating themselves.
2007's "Rush Hour 3" was the absolute worst. It was totally far-fetched. The whole film felt really contrived and forced. It tried to reinstate the pathos from the first, but failed to do so. The stunts from Jackie Chan, the martial arts star, were few and far-between, and frankly not that impressive.
I have to admit that the "Rush Hour" series did start out strong. We weren't initially bogged down in a lot of intrigue. Instead, we were given a basic premise. Terrorists, or Asian gang members, kidnapped the daughter of a Chinese diplomat to ransom her for $50 million.
The emotional center is played very well, as we see scenes of the diplomat who's anxious and scared for his daughter, but also seeing Jackie Chan's Chief Inspector Lee also show fatherly concern and affection to the little girl.
The fact that Chan's character was a foreign police detective was helpful in playing up his language barrier. It also made for some funny culture clash moments, which we weren't bombarded, but we got a nice mix. One culture clash in particular resulted in an awesome pool hall fight.
Chan was diving over and under pool tables, grabbing and brandishing pool sticks, in a fight sequence that didn't look staged and didn't make Chan look like a superman. In the fight, he took a lot of punches and didn't look so graceful, but yet awkward and clumsy at times. But that's what made it cool and fun to watch. Chan's choreography looked real.
Yet, Chan is such a fan of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton that his choreography is almost always played for laughs. The fights, despite looking real, are never bloody, gruesome, or actually all that violent. They're practically comical.
Director Brett Ratner, who had to fly to South Africa initially to meet Chan and convince him to do the movie, did a good job of pairing Chan's physicaly comedy in that regard with Chris Tucker's verbal comedy.
Chris Tucker, a standup comedian who I first saw on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," has some of the best one-liners ever. At first, Tucker comes across as a Eddie Murphy clone. If you remember Eddie Murphy in such 1980s buddy cop films, such as "Beverly Hills Cop" and "48 Hours," then you know what I mean.
Yet, Tucker's energy and quick-witted nature at times exceeded Murphy's. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two black comics in those films are striking. Tucker's energy allowed him to keep up with Chan's fast stuntwork and quick fight moves that the "Fastest Hands in the East" really did meet the "Biggest Mouth in the West" to great results.
For the second film, what the filmmakers did was basically a role reversal. Jackie Chan was given more dialogue and more comedic one-liners, whereas in the first film he hardly spoke. Chris Tucker, who had bulked up with more muscle, was given more fight scenes and more physical stunts.
A scene atop bamboo scaffolding and a brawl inside a massage house in only their towels were evidence of that. Tucker was still very much like Eddie Murphy, yet his Michael Jackson impersonations here don't yield as much laughter.
In fact, Tucker admits on the DVD special features for "Rush Hour 2" that people criticized the outtakes as being funnier than the actual movie. Tucker said he tried to overcome that. Yet, for all three films, that criticism holds true.
Sadly, for the second film, the inciting incident, which was an American embassy bombing, along with a counterfeit money scheme, made the film that much more difficult to follow, or even want to follow, especially since there was no real emotional connection to the scheme like with the kidnapped girl, no real urgency either.
For the third film, the filmmakers tried to inject that emotional connection back into the story by bringing back the little girl from the first film, now 10 years older. They again have her as a hostage to a terroristic Chinese gang leader, only this time supplanted in Paris but it all just doesn't work.
They co-mingle the story with this idea of Chan's character having a mobster brother who wasn't really his brother by blood. The whole thing is so ridiculous, and so clearly contrived that it more or less sucks the empathy out of the movie.
Chan and Tucker have some good moments here and there, but nothing ever felt inspired. Director Brett Ratner, whose background is in music videos and who drew inspiration for the first two movies from films like "Enter the Dragon," seems dulled down in this third one.
I noticed a lot of action scenes that were again copied from the previous movies. A guy getting pushed through a window and our two main characters falling off a very tall building over and over again were all just them copying off themselves, and I was rather bored by it. Even though the movie was brief, a lot of it felt like padding.
Rush Hour (1998) - Three Stars out of Five
Rush Hour 2 (2001) - Two Stars out of Five
Rush Hour 3 (2007) - One Star out of Five