Tucker, Chan Still Provide a 'Rush'

The chemistry between Chris Tucker, above, and co-star Jackie Chan never stalls out in
The chemistry between Chris Tucker, above, and co-star Jackie Chan never stalls out in "Rush Hour 3." (By Glen Wilson -- New Line Cinema)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007

A critic is bound by honesty. So at the risk of eternal humiliation in the Internet stockade, I must admit I laughed -- and was even touched by -- "Rush Hour 3."

It's true.

I could take the coward's refuge and claim that a steady summer diet of Sparrow, Potter and Spidey has reduced my sensibilities to mush. So of course I'd have fuzzy feelings for "Rush Hour" stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, who have built entire movies out of zippy, quippy innocuousness.

But there's more to this than judgmental burnout, I think. Call it essence mining on the part of filmmakers Brett Ratner, who directed all three "Rush Hour" flicks, and Jeff Nathanson, who scripted Nos. 2 and 3. They have isolated the franchise's essential ingredient -- without which it could never have grossed $592 million worldwide.

It's not Chan's kung fu kicks or Buster Keaton-like stunts. Nor is it Tucker's bug eyes or helium-infused voice. It's the East vs. West, tacky vs. subtle, instinctive vs. disciplined and just-plain-crazy connection between two likable goofballs.

Sure, their adversarial relationship is just another variation on big screen odd couplings we've enjoyed from Butch and Sundance to Murtaugh and Riggs. But the sheer cultural spectacle of a histrionic African American trading jibes with a soft-spoken Chinese fireplug gives "Rush Hour 3" a subtext appreciated around the globe.

"You are not my brother," Chan tells Tucker testily at one point, without a trace of racial implication -- at least not in his head. But, of course, it's that inference that makes us laugh, and we can almost hear the harmonic cackles in Shanghai, Dakar, Milan and Sydney.

After three movies together, Chan and Tucker clearly have learned how to play off each other; there's an analogue truthfulness to their chemistry. When Detective James Carter (Tucker) interrogates an Asian hoodlum who -- absurdly -- speaks only French, he's forced to enlist the help of a French-speaking nun. As Carter and the gangster trade insults through their nun interpreter, the humor comes in the escalating absurdity. But it's the appalled expression on the face of Chan's Inspector Lee that really resonates.

Which is why the "Pink Panther"-esque story barely matters -- and trust me, you don't want to know how our hapless heroes end up chasing Chinese triads in Paris, or what on Earth Scandinavian icon Max von Sydow is doing anywhere near this production. It's also why we don't mind that Chan, now 53, has restricted his physical work to shimmying down walls or sliding, Ty Cobb-like, under a rapidly closing entrance shutter. Or that 34-year-old Tucker is getting awfully long in the tooth to be playing, essentially, a human cartoon.

As for that, uh, touching moment, it happens when Lee and Carter have decided enough's enough, they're parting ways forever. To the uber-cheesy Elton John song "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," Lee wistfully orders a room service delivery of sweet potato pie while Carter mopes forlornly at a sidewalk cafe, munching Chinese carryout. It's a hilarious lampooning of that familiar moment in romantic comedies when both lovers think it's splitsville, and yet we suddenly realize how important their relationship really is -- to them and us.

Rush Hour 3 (90 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for action violence, sexual content, nudity and profanity.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company