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By Pete Vonder Haar | August 11, 2007

Chris Tucker received $25 million to reprise his role as Detective James Carter in “Rush Hour 3,” vaulting him well past former salary frontrunners like Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey (which is perfectly understandable, given most of the movies either of them has released recently). Than again, Tucker has made a whopping three movies in the last nine years, all of which have the words “rush” and “hour” in their titles. Certainly a large measure of the franchise’s success is attributable to Tucker and his chemistry with co-star Jackie Chan (as Chief Inspector Lee), but is he really that funny?

That’s the $25 million question. Speaking personally, I’ve always placed Tucker’s voice somewhere between sharing a bedroom in Vegas with a guy suffering from untreated sleep apnea after playing craps until 4 AM and the music of post-Genesis Phil Collins on the sonic annoyance scale. For me, the first “Rush Hour” was a mildly amusing distraction, but not one that required two sequels.

Directed again by Brett Ratner, “Rush Hour 3” finds Carter and Lee joining forces once more, this time to hunt down the persons responsible for attempting to assassinate the Chinese ambassador, who was planning to spill the beans about the nefarious Triads. After re-establishing Carter’s reputation as a p***y hound and a handful of perfunctory fight scenes, the pair travels to Paris, where they attempt to track down the elusive Genevieve, who holds the secret of the Triads’ organization.

The biggest reason behind the success of the original “Rush Hour” was the interaction between Chan and Tucker, but little of that is evident here. And without it, the third installment’s flaws are that much more apparent: Carter loudmouths his way through the movie like a more obnoxious, less amusing Axel Foley while Chan creaks along in the obligatory martial arts sequences. And Chan, who passed the 50-year mark a few years back, has never looked as old as he does here.

Though like my own 50-something father, he could probably hand me a savage beatdown without breaking a sweat.

Besides, all of Tucker’s bug-eyed, falsetto yammering and Chan’s dutiful stuntwork pale in comparison to one truly unfathomable sequence. After Lee and Carter first arrive in Paris, they are whisked away by the local cops, who establish jurisdictional boundaries with the application of a few phone books to the torso. The torture/intimidation is led by one Inspector Revi, played by Roman Polanski. In what is apparently supposed to be a humorous conclusion to the scene, Revi slaps on a rubber glove, after which we cut to Lee and Carter walking out of the station in obvious rectal discomfort.

Ratner’s casting of a convicted child rapist as the character that anally violates the film’s protagonists is emblematic of either a) someone with an amazingly infantile and grotesque sense of humor, or b) a complete idiot. Frankly, I’d be more impressed if it were a), but since that would make the scene the only non-formulaic bit of comedy in the whole movie I’m less inclined to believe it.

“Rush Hour 3” will likely be at least as successful at the box office as the previous installment. Even if it isn’t, Ratner’s reputation won’t take a hit. The man who brought us “The Family Man” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” is no better or worse than any of a couple dozen other Hollywood crap merchants. The biggest loser in all of this is Chan, whose legacy over here won’t be his 20+ years as a martial arts pioneer, but rather his playing straight man to the likes of Tucker and Owen Wilson.

The winners? None other than the $25 million man himself and Polanski, who not only gets to thumb his nose at American authorities, but might have negotiated himself some points on the back end.

Get it? “Back end?” Hey, I’m just as funny as Brett Ratner.

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