It's of little surprise that the press notes for Rush Hour 2 begin by mentioning how much its 1998 precursor pocketed in revenue: some $250 million worldwide. The current incarnation has no reason to exist other than to pick the pockets of those who found Rush Hour vaguely amusing; it does little more than rehash culture and kung fu clashes. Once more, Chief Inspector Lee (Chan) and Los Angeles police detective James Carter (Tucker) pair up to square off against a bad guy (John Lone) who exists only as plot point and prop. Alan King also shows up as a greedy real-estate developer. And the setting is little changed: The movie kicks off in Hong Kong (three days or so after the ending of the first film), then moves quickly to L.A. and Las Vegas. It ends at the airport, with Chan and Tucker bound for New York. Quick -- guess where Rush Hour 3 is gonna take place?
Lone, once so striking and elegant (M. Butterfly, The Last Emperor), is given little more to do than preen and posture as Tan, a man smuggling counterfeit money from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Yet whenever he's on-screen, he seems dreadfully out of place. So, too, is Don Cheadle in an unbilled cameo as one of Carter's old informants, a Crenshaw brutha running a Chinese soul-food restaurant; he looks less than amused to be slumming in his outtake, in which Tucker keeps calling Chan by his real name. ("His name is Lee!" Cheadle reminds the squeaky-voiced Tucker.)
But no one is more wasted than Zhang Ziyi: The Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon costar plays Tan's sidekick, Hu Li, yet she's asked to do little more than kick Tucker in the head a few times, slice an apple with a nasty-looking knife, and slink around in black leather until her inevitable dispatching. It's as if director Brett Ratner told her only, "Stand there and look pretty." That's what happens when you go from working with a visionary to biding your time with a hack: You stop acting and only hope you're not terribly embarrassed by the final product.
But the casual fan will wonder only if Rush Hour 2 is as amusing as its predecessor, itself just a slight diversion. The answer is no, not really, because it's as light on its feet as a dead elephant. It's never clever or smart, nor is it terribly thrilling or engaging during its numerous fight sequences, all of which are choreographed with pedestrian flair by Ratner, who helmed Rush Hour and last year's gutless It's a Wonderful Life rip-off, The Family Man. An early scene, which takes place on a scaffold made of bamboo, is so poorly shot (much of it in closeup), it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom; Jackie Chan could be kicking his own ass for all we know.
Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (responsible for bits and pieces of Coyote Ugly, Speed 2, and Twister, which should violate some three-strikes-and-you're-out law) seem to think that getting a funnyman to deliver straight lines (they couldn't be jokes, could they?) warrants a hefty paycheck. In truth all it does is demand that Tucker, who's already as subtle as a nail gun in the eye, turn up the volume to 11. (Do earplugs come with that popcorn?) Tucker spends damned near the entirety of the movie yelling, screaming, and screeching at Chan and the audience. And still he's making jokes about Chan's nationality, as though the two aren't even friends and Rush Hour never happened. If only.