Directed by Brett Ratner. Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, John Lone, Zhang Ziyi, Alan King, Roselyn Sanchez. New Line.
Recurring action violence; ogling of scantily clad women; some profanity, frequent crass language, and racial slurs.
Rush Hour 2 follows so closely in the footsteps of its hugely successful predecessor that an actual review is practically unnecessary. People who saw the first film — a cop buddy flick featuring Jackie Chan as Inspector Lee of the Hong Kong police and Chris Tucker as Detective Carter of the LAPD — probably have a pretty good idea whether or not they are likely to enjoy the second one. People who didn’t see the first one probably aren’t all that interested in the second. And, if they are, they can always read a review of the first one: By and large, the same draws, and drawbacks, apply.
Once again there’s an East-meets-West odd-couple juxtaposition of straight man Lee with outrageous motormouth Carter. This time Carter gets to be the Fish Out of Water for awhile, as the boys take their act to Lee’s native Hong Kong for about half the movie before Carter’s criminological theorizing ("Follow the rich white man") leads them back to L.A. (New York is next up, according to the movie’s last scene).
So which is better, One or Two? Any answer would be too individual to matter much. Instead, I’ll content myself with merely listing some of what works and what doesn’t in this sequel. You can do your own math.
- The Beach Boys and Michael Jackson. No, they don’t guest-star in Rush Hour 2 — but they both come up in the first five minutes, and they both get a laugh.
- Chinese bamboo scaffolding. Yes, they really use bamboo for urban scaffolding in Asia. It’s very strong, yet flexible. For anyone who’s seen Jackie in action, the implications of such ready-made monkeybars are obvious.
- Zhang Ziyi. The slip of a girl who made such an impact on American audiences as the delicate dragon Jen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brings a welcome presence to the role of the Bond-style bad girl. Ziyi ("Z" to her Asian fans) glowers and struts about in black leather and spike heels, yet somehow becomes most unnerving while simply cooing in her little-girl voice, conveying the desired effect by mere inflection (her lines are all Chinese with subtitles). For most of the movie she doesn’t break a sweat (though she does repeatedly kick Carter into oblivion, which I can’t say I minded); then, in the last reel, she gets some great action scenes.
- The massage-parlor fight. Lee in a pink bathrobe and Carter in a towel take on a dozen Triad (Chinese gangster) goons. Jackie gets in some nice chair fu, Tucker gets in a funny use of the old "All y’all look alike" saw, and there’s even an opportunity for some rare teamwork Jackie-style.
- "You died!" — "Inspector Yu died?" A silly case of mistaken death leads to an exchange that briefly lives up to a classic Abbott & Costello tradition.
- Jackie in motion, always. I liked how he immobilizes a man with a life preserver. And the effortless way he dismounts from a tall cart being pushed through a casino hallway (and the sight gag that follows). And an impossible-looking slide under the bars at a casino service counter.
- Chris Tucker’s mouth, occasionally. Tucker hurls so much material that eventually something has to stick, and does. Even when Jackie tries to get in a good line — "Here I’m Michael Jackson, you’re Toto!" — Tucker usually has the last word: "Tito! You mean Tito! Toto is what we had for dinner last night!" A Martin Luther King, Jr. riff in a casino is also amusing.
- Paper lanterns, a rope, and three 18-wheelers. The movie’s climactic stunt isn’t the most impressive thing Jackie’s ever done, but it’s satisfyingly clever, and, with Tucker in the mix, pretty funny too.
- Outtakes. Of course. It never ceases to amaze me, watching Jackie Chan movies, that some people actually start heading for the theater doors as the credits begin to roll. The end-credit outtakes, featuring blown lines as well as botched stunts, are often as entertaining as anything in the film, if not more so. Highlights this time around include an unscheduled cell-phone call and a final, self-aware line from Tucker alluding to the inevitable next sequel. Stick around for it; it’s funny.
What doesn’t work:
- Chris Tucker’s mouth, the rest of the time. Again. Despite a few good lines, Tucker’s incessant stream of bravado and abuse comes off as more irritating than anything else. Lines like "I’m tall, dark and handsome, you third-world ugly" aren’t funny, and strike a sour note. Many audience members will silently applaud the most telling line in the movie, which has Lee simply tell Carter, "I’m tired of your b---s---."
- Too-short fight scenes. Again. The first Rush Hour unwisely limited Jackie to short bursts of action a minute or less in length — hardly enough for a decent warm-up. At the time, I thought that director Brett Ratner (The Family Man), or perhaps the studio brass, simply didn’t trust Jackie to engage mainstream audiences for five minutes or more with his extended, elegantly choreographed combat sequences.
However, after the box-office killing of the first movie (and the success of Jackie’s next buddy film, Shanghai Noon), I did think Rush Hour 2 would give Jackie more room to do what he does best. Well, it does, but only marginally. The bamboo scaffolding sequence, in particular, could have been a lot better if only Jackie had had more time. This seems to be the fault of returning director Ratner, who apparently just prefers shorter action sequences.
Worse, Ratner still doesn’t know how to shoot Jackie: The same close-ups and fast edits that marred Rush Hour are back in Rush Hour 2. Obviously, Ratner should not be allowed to direct Rush Hour 3, or any other Jackie Chan film.
- Half-naked women. The massage-parlor fight mentioned above is preceded by a pointless cheesecake prelude, with no ultimate comic or dramatic payoff, in which Lee and Carter are each invited to select a masseuse (Carter can’t restrict himself to just one) from a bevy of bikini-clad Asian beauties.
Later, the two spend some time ogling one of the two main female characters (Roselyn Sanchez) — first through a telescopic lens as she strips to her skivvies in front of a hotel window, then up close as they crash into her hotel room, at which point she dons a silk bathrobe but won’t stay covered up. (Actually, Carter does most of the ogling once they get to the hotel room; Lee musters the willpower to force himself to stare in some random direction.) The movie even makes a point of a tattoo on Sanchez’s body, then never mentions it again.
By the time we got to the big casino shindig with dangling showgirls shimmying on ropes twenty-five feet off the floor, I was starting to feel like Jackie in the hotel room with Sanchez, looking for a random direction to stare in. Jackie has said in the past that he avoids putting sex in his movies because he wants them to be accessible to younger viewers. He should reflect that a movie can be too trashy for kids even if no one actually ends up in bed.
- The plot. If it seems like I’m only getting around to this as an afterthought, well, it’s the same way with the movie. Granted, plot isn’t expected to be a major consideration in a film like this, but at the very least basic character motivations should be worked out. If Sanchez was really trying to get Lee and Carter out of the way, why didn’t she give them completely false information? Why exactly was Alan King ("the rich white guy") walking out on John Lone in the end? How exactly is it supposed to make sense that the U.S. government gave the Shah a set of U.S. Treasury printing plates?
Best not to think about it.