Buddy comedy chemistry has an expiration date.
Audiences had to wait six years for the new "Rush Hour 3," and the film makes it clear the comedy team of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker has soured during the hiatus.
Director Brett Ratner, who helmed the previous two "Rushes," recognizes that harsh truth and injects the threequel with enough action to pave over our disappointment.
The duo still has its moments, but anyone new to the franchise will be left wondering what the fuss was all about.
Det. James Carter (Mr. Tucker) is directing traffic — and dancing to his own drummer — when he learns that a Chinese diplomat has been shot just a few blocks away. Inspector Lee (Mr. Chan) had been with the diplomat during the assassination attempt, and Lee promises the man's daughter he will do all he can to track down the gunman.
That chase leads Lee, with Carter in tow, from California to Paris, where a French politician (Max von Sydow) is hiding out. Apparently he, too, has been marked for death by the Triads, a vicious gang with a long, bloody history.
The chase gets personal for Lee when he learns an old friend is a key player in the Triad death machine. It's hardly breaking news to find an action comedy with credibility issues, but "Rush's" convoluted story taxes the most understanding movie lovers.
The film also makes Carter a latter-day Dirty Harry, a nasty turn for a previously fun-loving role. Carter points a loaded gun at two different people, one a complete innocent, and he looks all too eager to pull the trigger.
Some ancillary characters try to give "Rush Hour 3" the energy once generated by the Tucker-Chan elixir. An American-hating cab driver (Yvan Attal) enjoys a colorful character arc, but it's clear screenwriter Jeff Nathanson doesn't know quite what to do with him. And Dana Ivey gets a guffaw as a nun forced to translate French for our Gallic-challenged heroes.
But why aren't we laughing harder at Mr. Tucker and his high-pitched caterwaul? Take one ripe sequence, when Carter barges into a cabaret dressing room pretending to be the performers' costume designer. Hilarity ensues, right? Not quite. Even Mr. Tucker's throwaway lines seem strained, not inspired.
The laziness extends to the script, which trots out exhausted Asian jokes as if a hundred better comedies hadn't had a crack at them first.
Mr. Chan remains, at best, an awkward performer, and as he gets older he's less able to pull off the crazed stunts that made him a star. Still, he comes off better here than his co-star, displaying the kind of amiable presence that Mr. Tucker can no longer summon.
And watching Mr. Chan bumble his lines during a blooper reel tells us he has a harder time with his line readings than with his complicated stunt work.
Check off "Rush Hour 3" as another passable sequel signifying, hopefully, the end of a franchise.
TITLE: "Rush Hour 3"
RATING: PG-13 (Nudity, violence, adult language and sexual innuendo)
CREDITS: Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson based on characters created by Ross LaManna.
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
WEB SITE: www.rushhourmovie.com MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS