Say It Again Y'all
“War! Huh-yeah! What is it good for!?” Edwin Starr’s glorious anti-Vietnam war song became a buddy-anthem in the original Rush Hour, wherein LAPD muck-up James Carter (Chris Tucker) joined forces with exceptionally patient Chinese Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan)—even though they could barely understand one another. The jokes about cultural ignorance were obvious but the charismatic players brought differently appealing skills: Chan the ever-inventive martial artist and Tucker the irreverent motormouth.
Two movies later, the combination is tired (and once more, the best material appears in the outtakes at film’s end). In Rush Hour 3, the buddies fight, bond, trade japes, rescue beautiful women, and fight off expert killers. This time, following the shooting of Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma, back again), they make their way to Paris, for some reason a haven for Chinese Triads. Supposedly protecting the head of the “World Criminal Court,” General Reynard (Max von Sydow), for whom Han was conducting a special investigation into the Triads, the duo indulges in one raucously formulaic mini-adventure after another.
Disjointed and hyperbolic, these chases and showdowns pit Carter and Lee against an array of forces. Right after Han goes down they take off after the shooter, passing as they go a group of protestors carrying placards against the WCC, an ostensible political point never elaborated. The pursuit takes them across traffic lanes and into dark alleys, Carter screeching in a Mercedes he’s jacked from a pair of buxom traffic violators (he’s been reduced to directing traffic, which he performs to the beat of Prince’s “Do Me, Baby” at film’s start, Tucker’s MJ-imitative crotch-grabs and falsetto sing-along not exactly news anymore) and Lee, of course, on foot, leaping over barricades and up brick walls.
The shooter turns out to be Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), once an orphan in Hong Kong with Lee, though, being Japanese, not adopted as Lee was. When Lee is unable to shoot him, Kenji scampers away, leaving Lee in a familiar position, ashamed and determined to save face at their next encounter. This is ensured when he and Carter pledge to Han’s daughter Soo Yung (Jinchu Zhang)—very young kidnap victim in the first film—that they will find the man who shot her father. Much like Lee, she’s caught in-between spaces, both victim and martial arts expert (her training at a local NYC studio occasions the partners’ clobbering, for long minutes, by the studio’s guard, real-life 7’9” basketball player Sun Ming Ming, here lumbering and showing off his size 20 shoe, planted on Carter’s neck). For the most part, though, Soo Yung is relegated to the role of distressed damsel, especially once the action moves to Paris (where she is promptly kidnapped, again).
Here the cross-cultural “war” finds a new framework, namely, Carter’s insistent abuse of all things French. (Back in the States, he reveals that he’s also averse to Iranians, having put six scientists in jail because, he tells the captain [Philip Baker Hall], “Just because they cure cancer in rats doesn’t mean they won’t blow shit up”). On meeting a Chinese assassin who speaks French, Carter chastises him: “You’re Asian, man! Stop humiliating yourself!”, while the interrogation scene allows jokes about the “n-word” and the “h-word,” via the adorable inflections offered by their interpreter, a nun played by Dana Ivey, of all people.
The interrogation yields a Parisian street address; the boys are greeted at De Gaulle by none other than Roman Polanski as Detective Revi, who dons a rubber glove in order to search their nether regions (just why the anal probe is eternally hilarious in cop-buddy movies remains a mystery). This joke presages others targeting the le-pewy French (Kenji’s lair is located in the city’s famous sewers, which allows for yet another sight gag, namely, the boys sliding through a chute full of waste), but hardly slows down the action, as each buddy finds a lady, Carter’s quite beautiful and Lee’s quite lethal (so much for Jackie Chan getting laid this time).
Model-singer-gambler Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir) appears the perfect object, her face on billboards, her outfits revealing, and her nightclub stage-show featuring a spectacularly violent number: Genevieve corseted and shot up in a car to the tune of Bridget Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde.” Intimately connected to the Triads plot, Genevieve the seeming “superfreak” also occasions Carter’s singular proclamations of lust (“I’d like to strip you down and butter you like a slice of Wonder Bread”) as well as a romp in bed (for which he orders up honey and Red Bull from room service). Lee’s encounter is less friendly, as the assassin Jasmine (Youki Kudoh) comes at him full-force—all flying knives and feet—even as Carter, listening at the door of Lee’s room, imagines his boy is engaged in a good time (“Tear that ass up!”).
The film is, of course, insistently focused on the buddyship, which is again premised on their efforts to bridge differences. When Lee is unable to share his “feelings” in quite the way Carter wants, they split up briefly, giving way to the film’s most outrageous bit of satire, a sad-and-lonely crosscutting montage set to Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” While Lee grows misty-eyed over a TV documentary showing “Africans,” Carter catches a glimpse of Temple of Doom, with that crazy-cute stereotype Short Round warming his heart near to bursting. In the midst of all the madness, the sequence momentarily underlines Rush Hour 3‘s self-understanding, its acknowledgment of the clichés it delivers with such vengeance.
Perhaps the most egregious (aside a finale set on the Eiffel Tower) is the cigarette-smoking, smugly American-hating Frenchman. Here he’s named George (Yvan Attal), and turns up repeatedly as their cab driver. Initially he’s utterly dismissive of the Yankees (“You lost in Vietnam, you lost in Iraq,” he sniffs, “The Dream Team is dead”), but George is soon won over by Carter and Lee’s thrilling chaos. Enlisted in a couple of car chases and shootouts, he offers his services free of charge, because he wants to be a super-spy. Though George eventually abandons this ambition, he does step up at a crucial moment to marvel at “what it means to be an American,” namely, what it’s like to “kill people for no reason.”
The movie doesn’t precisely resolve this strangely arranged debate between George’s critique of the U.S. per se and Carter’s attacks on France. But like its precursors in the franchise, it does make a case against “war” and in favor of buddies, across languages and expectations. That doesn’t make Rush Hour 3 good, but it does put Carter’s American excesses in a context.