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Rush Hour 3

No Rush to See This "Hour"

Rush Hour 3 is an aptly titled bit of disposable celluloid, firmly lodged in cruise control, without momentum or apparent direction. Despite the long-rumored return of Chris Tucker, last seen in 2001ís Rush Hour 2, it is a relatively joyless exercise in which characters who once seemed fresh are thrust into a routine caper, charged with the thankless task of invigorating it with sheer personality.

Itís not much of a stretch, mind you. Even the first Rush Hour, for all its modest but very real charms, was little more than a standard thriller that happened to feature two hungry, rising stars: Tucker, then fresh off star-making turns in Friday and The Fifth Element, and Jackie Chan, whose acrobatic chops and natural comic instincts proved such a revelation (at least to American audiences) in Rumble in the Bronx. Together, their playful chemistry elevated a pedestrian story into an agreeable distraction.

The rest is history, though not the kind that inspires books or, apparently, ambitious screenplays. In Rush Hour 3 the pair turn up in Paris, presumably because producers felt their act had grown stale in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, or because the city bore the promise of a comfortable shoot. It does provide a picturesque backdrop, but then, Paris will never be derided for its shabby scenery.

Joined briefly by the veteran Max von Sydow and exiled director Roman Polanski (on hand as a French detective with a fetish for inflicting pain), Tucker and Chan are fish out of water, guided around the City of Light by a cartoonish cabbie (Yvan Attal) whose anti-Americanism immediately gives way to a newfound adoration for guns and the L.A. Lakers. Before long, they find themselves at odds with members of the dreaded Chinese Triads, who have kidnapped the grown-up (and conveniently beautiful) daughter of a noble ambassador.

The details are inconsequential, but the duo saves the day, rescuing Soo Yung (Jinchu Zhang) after a dizzying struggle atop the Eiffel Tower, and scoring another romantic interest (Noťmie Lenoir) in the process. Chan, for his part, is ideally suited to this kind of silliness, given his still-fascinating stuntwork and his sunny demeanor, but Rush Hour 3 gives him too little to do. Here, he is more a glorified sidekick, with Tucker putting his famously high-pitched howl at the forefront.

He sings, he dances, and he uncorks punchless zingers with an almost desperate abandon. The performance is classic overkill, the kind Eddie Murphy used to give when directors threw him in front of the camera and waited for him to bring the funny. Like Murphy, Tuckerís energy is admirable and sometimes infectious, but it exists in a vacuum. Rush Hour 3 is a perfunctory affair that leans too heavily on stars who have seen better scripts. Not until the closing credits, flashed against a background of outtakes and bloopers, do Tucker and Chan really come alive.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars