With "The Mummy Returns" and "Scary Movie 2", the climate for sequels has been quite negative lately. Coming along to disrupt the trend is "Rush Hour 2" (IMDb listing). Managing the impossible, this new installment of the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan franchise takes all of the groundwork established in "Rush Hour" and improves on the first film simply by amping up the fun factor and enjoying the already founded character development.
Picking up three days after "Rush Hour" concluded, "Rush Hour 2" takes our heroesthe LAPD detective Carter (Chris Tucker) and the Hong Kong detective Li (Jackie Chan) over to Hong Kong where they soon uncover a vast counterfeiting conspiracy, a collection of dead bodies, and a vicious henchwoman (Zhang Ziyi, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") who would like nothing more than to murder the two cops. Clearly opposed to this, Li and Carter follow their leads to Las Vegas where the key to the investigation lies in the opening of the new superhotel, The Red Dragon.
For me, "Rush Hour" took far too long when it came to solidifying the relationship between Tuckeršs Carter and Chan's Li. A commendable comedic team, "Rush Hour" only scratched the surface in terms of exploiting the interplay between these two polar opposites. "Rush Hour" was a fast, entertaining film, yet it seemed more like a thinly disguised attempt to sell yet another Jackie Chan choreography-fest, only this time in the guise of a slick mainstream comedy. "Rush Hour 2" has the benefit of hindsight. The temperamental nature of Tucker and Chan's by-play has already been established, and director Brett Ratner (also returning from the original) knows full and well that his homework has been completed already. Building on "Rush Hour" and not simply parroting it, "Rush Hour 2" is more self-confident in the laugh department and has a newfound appreciation for delivering a wild ride.
And Ratner has always been the man for wild rides. A gifted and undeniably charismatic filmmaker, Ratner is back on familiar action comedy ground after his wildly successful foray into heartwarming comedy with last holiday's "The Family Man" (in which most of the cast of that film returns here in several cameos). Arriving with clear visual ideas and the conviction that comes with sequels, Ratner keeps "Rush Hour 2" taut and swift like a pro who knows just what works and what doesn't.
Infusing his cinematic world with pinks, deep reds, and only the hippest of style, Ratner (along with astounding work from production designer Terence Marsh) guides this sequel past the original by keeping it colorful and brisk. Working with almost three times the budget of the first film, and a plethora of locations, Ratner opens the sequel to a more global adventure. Right away, from the opening credit sequence in Hong Kong, the new film just feels bigger and more assured. Never taking a true dark turn, some might accuse Ratner of deliberately removing the edges from this film. In "Rush Hour 2," the action includes gunfights, murders, stabbings, and bombs placed in mouths. The beautiful thing that Ratner accomplishes (as in all his films) is that he gives you all that wicked evil with a wink and smile.
Having never been a fan before, the real surprise of "Rush Hour 2" is how charming Jackie Chan comes off. Grasping a better command of the English language, and for the first time starting to show his age, Chan actually appears as charming and likable as his co-star Tucker. I could even stomach the achingly dull, rigidly choreographed fights that are interspersed throughout the film. They still come off a little too outlined and mechanically executed, but "Rush Hour 2" is such a cheerful time at the movies that for every frustrated attempt to showcase Chan's obnoxiously documented abilities, a truly hilarious comedic set piece follows right away.
Ratner's secret weapon in "Rush Hour 2" is easily the stunt casting of Zhang Ziyi. While it's great to see Tucker back on the screen after a three-year hiatus (very risky for him, but as soon as his mouth opens the jokes come flowing out), it is the diminutive star of the smash "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that gracefully snatches the film away from the two headliners. Conversing mainly in her native tongue, Zhang Ziyi dominates the screen as the violent and unmerciful right hand woman to the main villain, a Hong Kong gangster named Ricky Tan (John Lone). Fitted in spectacular outfits, showcasing her limber body, and shot correctly by Ratner (always stay on the face of this young actress), Ziyi's name will be the one on the lips of moviegoers as they exit the cinema, not Tucker or Chan.
"Rush Hour 2" is the kind of easy sequel that I pray would happen more often. Not necessarily treading new ground, nor simply going through the motions just to cash that fat royalty check at the end of the month, "Rush Hour 2" delivers the materials effortlessly and sincerely. For a mindless action comedy continuation, what more could you want?
Filmfodder Grade: A-