Here's something I didn't expect to say: "Rush Hour 2" is the most fun I've had at a big budget, non-animated movie this summer.
While that says more about the low quality of this summer's supposed blockbusters than about this movie; I would also rate "Rush Hour 2" as Jackie Chan's best Hollywood effort, as it is funnier and faster paced than the slack "Rush Hour," which first teamed Jackie Chan as Hong Kong cop Inspector Lee, and Chris Tucker as inept, mouthy L.A.P.D. detective James Carter.
Carter is on vacation to Hong Kong, but Lee can't stop working long enough to show him a good time. Soon, they are tangled up in a case that involves counterfeiting. The top knotch cast of characters includes John Lone, as the head baddun. Ziyi Zhang of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" adds class to the proceedings as a ruthless assassin, and Brazilian beauty queen Roselyn Sanchez is surprisingly more than just decoration as an undercover Secret Service agent. Don Cheadle has an amusing cameo as the owner of a Chinese soul food restautant.
There is more balance to the stars' roles in this outing, with Chan getting to hurl more insults and Tucker getting more involved in the action; but there is NO doubt which star is better at which role. The movie includes a fair amount of Chan's amazing grace, including a scene where he leaps through a teller window, and his usual improvisation at hitting bad guys with whatever is handy.
But what makes "Rush Hour 2" significant is its flaunting of Politically Correct sensibilities. Like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons from the 1940s which have been banned from Saturday morning TV, "RH2" is filled with racial and cultural jokes. That in and of itself is not unusual, black comedians-- including Tucker-- specialize in such things these days.
What is different about "Rush Hour 2" is that the jokes are both funny (mostly, anyway) AND harmless. There is an equal opportunity sensibility at work here. People aren't good or bad based on their race (though Chris Tucker makes fun of movies where that is the case, by explaining to Chan that behind every crime is a "rich white guy"), and Tucker gets laughs by being the Ugly American in Hong Kong-- but it's a measure of the evenhanded approach of this movie that he is allowed to be the Ugly African American.
Here's an example of one exchange:
Lee: "We are in Hong Kong now. Here I am Michael Jackson, and YOU are Toto."
Carter: "That's TITO, fool. Toto is what we had for dinner last night!"
Later, Carter is creating a diversion in a Las Vegas casino run by a gang of counterfieters while Lee investigates. When he is given a stack of $500 chips, he protests that all of the white people around the table have $1000 chips. He flies into a hillarious riff on protestations of racism, "Are you trying to send us back to the cotton fields with $500 chips?" he howls, and later adapts the "I have a dream" speech to all people being able to gamble together with the same chips. (Hmm, wonder if the King family tried to collect royalties on THAT, like they tried to hit up schools a few years ago.)
Funny stuff, but it has a lot of the liberal critics cringing-- hey, there's ANOTHER reason to like this movie. It would probably be giving this generally silly movie too much credit to suppose Tucker is satirizing Jesse Jackson's protection racket against big corporations to benefit his millionaire "minority contractor" business cronies, but it sure works well.
On the down side for families, there is a lot of mid-grade bad language, and Carter spends a fair amount of the time comically leering at women; but, as in most of Chan's work, the movie never degenerates into all out crudeness, and the romance is still developing as the movie ends.
In the funny out takes, when a stunt man takes a bad fall, Tucker cracks, "He won't be around for 'Rush Hour 3." But these two-- and probably Sanchez-- certainly will.