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(2001) (Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker) (PG-13)

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Comedy/Action: A fleet-footed Chinese inspector and his fast-talking American detective friend join forces once again to track down those responsible for producing nearly undetectable counterfeit money.
James Carter (CHRIS TUCKER) is an LAPD detective who's on vacation in Hong Kong visiting his friend, Detective Inspector Lee (JACKIE CHAN), with whom he previously solved a kidnapping case and who's now too busy working to relax. That doesn't let up when a mysterious woman, Hu Li (ZHANG ZIYI), drops off a package - that turns out to be a bomb -- at the American embassy and it ends up killing two U.S. Customs agents.

They were working on a major counterfeiting ring that's been producing and distributing nearly undetectable "super bills" in one-hundred-dollar denominations. While the Hong Kong police believe that Chinese triad ruler Ricky Tan (JOHN LONE) is responsible, Secret Service special agent Sterling (HARRIS YULIN) thinks it's even bigger than him, and wants neither Lee nor Carter working on the case.

Lee ignores that, however, since Tan was his father's ex-partner who turned bad and murdered the cop. Soon he and Carter are on the case, applying their distinctive methods of investigation into solving it. When it appears that Hu Li has shot and killed Tan, however, Sterling orders Carter back to the States.

Carter convinces Lee to join him since he believes that Steven Reign (ALAN KING), a wealthy Los Angeles businessman, is somehow involved, and this leads to encounters with various people who may or may not be involved in the counterfeit ring. They include Isabella Molina (ROSELYN SANCHEZ), a woman who claims to be an agent working the case from the inside, as well as Kenny (DON CHEADLE), Carter's informant.

As Lee and Carter dig deeper and uncover more facts, they must contend with various attempts on their lives as they try to crack the case and nab all of the criminals.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Like most films critics, I receive all sorts of feedback on various reviews I've written over the years. Some strongly agree with my take on a film's artistic merits, while others feel exactly the opposite and let me know just that quite clearly. What I hear the most is that I am or have become too jaded toward most films - much like many other reviewers - and thus overlook any given picture's inherent enjoyment potential due to overanalyzing and nitpicking the acting, writing, directing and other technical efforts.

While I'm sure there's some validity to that - and believe me, I had the same outsider perception of other critics in my previous, non-reviewer life - one need only do this for a few years - and see as many bad films as we must see - before the ultra-critical viewpoint becomes a de facto standard.

On occasion, however, a film will come along that manages to override such cynicism and critical viewing despite not really being very good from an artistic standpoint. "Rush Hour 2" is one such picture. The original film - released in 1998 - was a surprise hit. While many knew of Jackie Chan thanks to his amazing martial arts skills, stunts and terrific physical timing in pictures such as "Rumble in the Bronx" and "First Strike," and others were familiar with Chris Tucker from the films "Money Talks" and "The Fifth Element," neither had been much of a domestic box office draw up to that point.

Yet, there was something about the particular blend of action and comedy as well as the chemistry between its odd couple duo that struck a nerve with viewers. Debuting with a huge -- and unheard of for the time -- opening fall weekend take of $30+ million, the film went on to gross more than $250 million worldwide. Now, I don't care if a movie is about watching paint dry on the side of a barn - if it makes a lot of money, there's going to be the inevitable sequel. Such is the case with this film.

Following the old sequel rule of "If it ain't broke, don't mess around with the formula by trying to fix or improve it," screenwriter Jeff Nathanson ("Speed 2: Cruise Control," "For Better or Worse") and returning director Brett Ratner ("The Family Man," "Rush Hour") deliver more of the same old, same old.

Namely, that's lot of martial arts fighting and stunts, wisecracks from Tucker, and the friendly cross-cultural ribbing and humor between the two leads. While the film won't appeal to everyone, isn't likely to be honored come the awards season, and is near instantly forgettable, it does contain a lively and infectious spirit that grows stronger as the story progresses and actually improves upon what the original film had to offer.

The result is a picture that's highly entertaining. That's a good thing since it's about as artificial as saccharine and possesses a basic plot that doesn't win any awards for originality. Following the basic mismatched, cop-buddy setup, the story concerns the two detectives who must investigate and then stop some counterfeiters. The latter, naturally, are too dumb - as in most such films - to dispatch the cops when they get the chance.

Of course, the premature deaths of the two main characters would not only lead to an abrupt end of the film, but would also eliminate what makes the picture work, and that's Chan and Tucker together. As in most every film in which Chan has appeared, the plot is just a throwaway device upon which to hang any number of elaborately staged and executed fight and action sequences.

While the Asian star's age and the fact that he's done just about every stunt with every prop imaginable prevents the film from being one of his best, let alone a memorable classic in such regards, the action sequences are still rather enjoyable to watch. They also prove that Chan still has that perfect, Keaton/Chaplin-esque sense of physical comedy timing that makes him so much fun to behold.

Like the first film, additional layers of comedy come from the presence of Tucker and his interaction with Chan's character as well as his wild-eyed, incredulous and/or false bravado reaction and response to whatever situation in which they find themselves. While Tucker might occasionally push his luck as far as balancing between being funny and irritating, for the most part the results are amusing when not downright funny.

As enjoyable as they are in the main film, however, the two are a riot in the outtakes that play during the closing credits. Make sure you stick around for them and the footage of various stunts that obviously didn't go as planned the first, second or third time around.

In the supporting roles, Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Road Home") and Roselyn Sanchez ("Held Up," TV's "Fame LA") are decent considering what's asked of them and they dutifully and effectively deliver the now obligatory "girl power" moments and action material of the film. John Lone ("The Shadow," "The Last Emperor") and Alan King ("Casino," "Bonfire Of The Vanities") play the stereotypical head villains, while Don Cheadle ("Traffic," "The Family Man") has a small part as an informant.

Although little of what's present here is particularly original, there's just something about the way Ratner and his stars have staged the film that makes it such a blast to watch. That's particularly true in the later parts of the second half where the picture's contagious sense of hyperkinetic fun will overtake all but the most jaded cynics. Instantly forgettable and clearly nothing special from an artistic standpoint, "Rush Hour 2" is the rare sequel that's better than the original and is nothing short of an above average piece of diversionary entertainment. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 25, 2001 / Posted August 3, 2001

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