Summer is the season of excess for movies, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We enjoy the occasional excessively dumb action movie. We like movies with excessive amounts of cool things, like monkeys. The biggest non-animated, wizard-free film of 2001 was Rush Hour 2, which featured excessive amounts of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. And while such excess was perfectly acceptable in the first film, screenwriter Jeff Nathanson's take on the characters (especially Tucker's loudmouth persona) seems a bit, well -- excessive.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Tucker's character commandeers the microphone in a karaoke bar full of Chinese Triad gangsters. It seems an action natural enough for Tucker's character when he finds the previous singer's rendition of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" pathetic, but is it also natural for him to hold the entire club hostage when he learns the true nature of his partner's business there? Let's not even discuss the casino sequence in which Tucker accuses Saul Rubinek of racism at full volume. (Has this been an issue in Las Vegas recently? We only ask because the new version of Ocean's Eleven features a similar scene.)
Jackie Chan has his own ways
of staying regular.
Nathanson, who has some practice at writing sequels (Speed 2, for instance), begins Rush Hour 2 three days after the end of the first story. James Carter (not the ex-President, but the rule-breaking cop played by Chris Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan, whose character doesn't seem to have a first name) are tooling around Hong Kong on Carter's vacation, working on Lee's cases. Carter spends the opening minutes of the movie complaining about Lee's workaholism and his own inability to meet women while Lee pursues criminals. His displeasure increases when Lee accepts a new case -- the investigation of an explosion at the American embassy in Hong Kong. In light of the events of these recent months, Carter's continued refusal to work on his vacation seems even pettier than it did when the film debuted in the summer.
When Chris Tucker went psycho,
he picked his victims from the back
of the celebrity phone book.
The plot thickens when ties develop between Lee's case, the American Secret Service, and Ricky Tan (John Lone), a Triad gangster with whom Lee has some history. In order to keep Carter tagging along, Lee pretends to take him to vacation spots while surreptitiously looking for Tan. First up is the aforementioned karaoke bar. While Tucker's rendition of the King of Pop is a better version of Michael Jackson than Jackson himself did in his recent concert special, the gangsters still take exception to their behavior and lead the merry twosome on a chase up the side of a building. Carter takes the stairs while Lee uses the bamboo scaffolding around the building to scale to the top, but they both wind up nearly dead at the hands of Tan's right-hand woman, Hu Li (the beautiful Zhang Ziyi, in her first American picture).
"I would have picked the
striped bathrobe, but they said
some guy named 'Cornelius'
was wearing it."
Next up is a massage parlor, a chance for Tucker to flex his "clueless tourist" muscles while simultaneously displaying a bit of lecherousness. When Lee tells Carter that Ricky Tan is in the joint, Carter tries to intimidate the gangster, not seeing the dozen thugs sitting behind him. A kung fu fight breaks out, and we're sad to report it's the only decent one in the film. There's plenty of action, sure -- explosions, kick boxing women, and Zhang Ziyi kicking Tucker's ass -- but this is the only real example of Chan's traditional, highly-choreographed, all-out kung fu brawl.
An entire movie set in Hong Kong would be too much to hope for; our heroes follow a lead back to Los Angeles and then find themselves in Las Vegas, where the embassy bombing reveals itself to be related to a ring of counterfeiters. The finale is suitably complicated for a movie set in Las Vegas, and revolves around a casino to boot.
Black Belt Jones he ain't.
If you liked Rush Hour, you'll probably like Rush Hour 2. The sequel is funny at more frequent intervals, and the Chan/Tucker duo still works really well. And if you liked Rush Hour you'll probably be more likely to overlook the flaws here. Besides Tucker's occasional overbearing episodes the movie tends to stop dead every twenty minutes or so while the plot is explained to us and our heroes are given a new location to get to. The question of jurisdiction is given even less time in this movie.
The new riffs here include some funny cameos by Don Cheadle and Jeremy Piven, some bigger stunts, and some improved English from Chan. Even composer Lalo Schifrin has stopped ripping off his own score for Enter the Dragon and moved on to new things -- like ripping off Danny Elfman.
In the end we were a little disappointed with this film. It's funny enough, and the action scenes keep coming. But it isn't as good-natured or as all around enjoyable as Jackie last American romp, Shanghai Noon. The obligatory credit-cookie outtakes (as usual, funnier than the movie) promise Rush Hour 3 is coming. Hopefully the third installment won't make us want to give this series the bum's rush.