“Rush Hour 2” is a textbook case of commerce over art, of retreading over reinvention. Yet there is something to be said about having a second try at something that didn’t quite work the time out, for derivative and disposable as it is, this latest go-round with mismatched buddy cops Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker is a more satisfying light entertainment.
The original “Rush Hour” certainly had its moments, but it had one central failing: the refusal to let Jackie be Jackie; when the world-famous martial arts superstar’s biggest showpiece in the film is not a fight scene but a simple slide down a banner, something is clearly amiss. What fights there were lacked the creative flavor of his Hong Kong works–making the fact that the film was Chan’s first true stateside blockbuster all the more unfortunate.
The first big showpiece in “Rush Hour 2” shows the situation being remedied, with Chan’s Inspector Lee chasing some baddies while weaving through a bamboo scaffold. Later scenes show an even stronger feel for Chan’s style, with the fights featuring his trademark “everything and the kitchen sink” way of using anything within arm’s reach as a weapon. This being an American (read: sanitized) production, the action set pieces don’t come close to the audacity of his HK films, but coming after the tepid displays in the original Rush Hour, they get the job done well enough.
What of the plot? Returning director Brett Ratner and writer Jeff Nathanson don’t offer much of an answer. The film begins just days after the end of the first, with Lee and LAPD detective James Carter (Tucker) in Hong Kong. Carter just wants a relaxing vacation, but naturally that isn’t in the cards as Lee gets him entangled in some not-terribly-interesting business involving Triad gangs. Disappointingly, “Rush Hour 2” doesn’t make much of the inverse fish-out-of-water scenario it begins on, for before long the duo’s investigation leads them back to U.S. soil–first L.A., then Las Vegas.
Chan and Tucker’s off-kilter chemistry is even more playfully amusing here, with Chan actually getting the opportunity to deliver some laugh lines this time. Of course, the brunt of the comedic burden is carried by Tucker, and while arguments that he is too loud even by his own standards do hold water (even if he doesn’t come close to what is heretofore his most shrill and overdone work–his grating performance in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element), his timing and ease with a wisecrack deliver the goods.
The lack of a strong plot means a shortchanging of those playing the villainous element, particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Zhang Ziyi. It goes without saying that her role here isn’t nearly as demanding as that of Jen Yu, and hence she is more than up to the diminished task here: look hot in black leather and kick some a*s. Granted, she is more effectively used than I had initially feared (I was thinking all of her scenes were those in the trailer), but it is a let down to see that her acting chops don’t get much of a workout.
But, in all fairness, do anyone’s ever get a workout in a Ratner film? After all, the most anyone can hope for when seeing his name attached to a film is a diverting enough slab of slick Hollywood hackwork–and, indeed, “Rush Hour 2” is that. Chan does his thing; Tucker does his, and everyone who buys a ticket gets exactly what they paid to see–which is more than can be said of a number of other popcorn entertainments this summer.