Sunday, August 12, 2007

Before & After: Rush Hour 3

In this blog's continual search for ways to enliven what passes for film criticism these days, we now take a look at the recently released third entry in the Rush Hour series, starring Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker and directed by Brett Ratner. Today, we'll examine the film from a "before and after" approach, in which a few misgivings about the films are discussed, pre-screening and a few insights are concluded with, post-screening.
Some Spoilers Follow!

BEFORE (August 11, 2007)
How strange it is to see, as a Jackie Chan fan since 1992 (the day being the one when my good friend Mark showed me the first 5 minutes of Armour Of God), that I'm pretty much the target audience for a movie like Rush Hour 3 and even I can't muster much enthusiasm for it.

Rush Hour 2 had a dramatic drop in quality from it's predecessor, so I'm imagining this third entry will too. Whereas the original Rush Hour was solid pretty much all the way through, somewhere along the line the creators of RH2 forgot the thing that made us appreciate Chris Tucker's "Carter" character in the first place: he was a great cop. Sure he was occasionally obnoxious but his police instincts and his desire to get in good with the Federal Agents on the case (the kidnapping of the daughter of a prominent Ambassador) made him sort of endearing... and when it came down to action-time toward the film's climax he dispatched his opponent capably and with a touch of humor. In RH2, he was reduced to a boorish, running and screaming buffoon and his character weakened the entire film. (He was barely even a cop, really.) I hope Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson at least restore his character to some small measure of dignity in RH3.

At least there's no new "Shanghai" sequel with Jackie and Owen Wilson on the way (Knights was similarly a major letdown after the fun of Noon), so that's something of a blessing. That said, I'm always ready for some new Hong Kong Jackie films. I very much enjoyed New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood, and even The Myth to a certain extent. Still, I'll get out to the theater to catch Rush Hour 3. As a movie fan, sometimes you've just gotta support the greatness of Jackie Chan, no matter what.

AFTER (August 12, 2007)
The verdict is: "
Genial but weak." I was reasonably entertained but they could do so much more with this series.

For instance, take the Young Martial Arts Students... Why not have them all bust out like crazy in their own action scene? Imagine them going after Chan & Tucker on their own and giving them a comical beatdown. That's what might've happened if this were a movie that really cared about being innovative. Hell, then they could've brought the gang back at the climax of the film as back-up and we could've had a dozen screaming Kung Fu Kids running around the Eiffel Tower, too (and calling back in theme to an earlier scene in which Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom plays on a nearby television while Tucker gets Chinese food.) As much fun as the French taxi driver "George" was (and he truly was a real highlight), I wondered what might have been had Ratner had the foresight to cast, say, Sami Naceri (of France's own infamous Taxi film series) in the part. And what is it that these films have for blue-screen/CGI gags involving heights and huge pieces of fabric? After the Rush Hour movies and Shanghai Knights (which "borrowed" it's last stunt from Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies), it seems that there's at least one pair of stunt people who like to recycle their tarp and flag gags.

Though it seemed that the narrative might have been tipping a hat to Johnnie To's Election films with it's use of Triad Elections as a plot device, I read somewhere that an earlier installment had a story sending Lee and Carter to Japan. They should've stuck with that, I think, for all the Parisian flavor this film had and all it's talk of Yakuza and such. Hiroyuki Sanada made an engaging villain and Jingchu Zhang was a fine damsel in distress -- but what these kind of films need is more scenes featuring characters like them and their own internal struggles. (What do they do when they're not in the room with Lee and Carter? Showing us would make them more interesting and well-rounded characters.) And while I've loved Youki Kudoh ever since Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, her part was no more than your standard kung-fu hitwoman and she's barely given a chance to shine. Chan and Tucker get more laughs than wows... But someone needs to butch up Tucker's film work once and for all. With his straining voice and aging swagger, Tucker is -- to quote fellow buddy coppers Riggs & Murtaugh -- "too old for this shit." Be that all as it may... the Chan/Tucker chemistry is still there, the car stunts and set pieces are still relatively impressive, the Eiffel Tower sequence has its moments and as the femme fatale, Noemie Lenoir can accurately be referred to as "the new hotness." Catching this at one's local cinema is still a decent enough way to beat the August heat for a couple of hours. **1/2 stars out of four ("good/not great")

Theatrical Reviews

The Simpsons Movie ****
The Host (Korea) ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***1/2
The Delta Force (1986) **1/2
Transformers **
Hero and the Terror (1988) *

DVD/Home Video:
Jaws (1975) ****
Zodiac ****
Jigoku: Criterion Collection (Japan) ***
Welcome To Collinwood (2002) ***
Dog Bite Dog (Hong Kong) ***
The Negotiator (Japan) ***
I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay (Korea) **1/2
Renaissance (France) **1/2
Yo Yo Girl Cop (Japan) *

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