“In my opinion”, he says… “In another two or three years, he’ll do an important film”
Uber Producer Dino DeLaurentis, referring to director Brett Rattner in Vanity Fair, April, 2007.
Remember this quote for later.
How bad is a film that doesn’t live up to your expectations when you have no expectations?
Every summer is filled with a number of sequels and the summer of 2007 has been no exception. What is slightly out of the ordinary is the number of ‘threequels’ we have had this summer. With the exception of “Oceans’ 13” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” each of the third entries has been a big let down. “Rush Hour 3” wasn’t a huge letdown, but that is only because I wasn’t expecting a lot in the first place. Somehow, director Brett Rattner managed to create a film that doesn’t even live up to these low, almost nonexistent expectations.
Carter (Chris Tucker) has been reassigned to direct traffic at an intersection in downtown Los Angeles. Instead of trying to do a good job and work his way back up the ranks (we never really learn why he was demoted in the first place) he listens to his iPod, dancing to Michael Jackson music while directing traffic. The hapless drivers don’t understand the signals and a pile up occurs. Soon, Carter is hitting on two bimbos who were driving a Mercedes involved in the accident. Lee (Jackie Chan) is now working as the bodyguard to the Chinese Ambassador of the World Criminal Court. They are making their way to a meeting of the court in Los Angeles; the Ambassador is prepared to announce he knows who is running the Triad. Warmly greeted by Reynard (Max Von Side), the Ambassador prepares to address the crowd when a sniper on top of a building far away shoots him. Lee spots the assassin and runs after him. Naturally, they cross paths with Carter and he joins in the chase. The assassin gets away, but Carter and Lee visit the Ambassador at the hospital. They learn the Ambassador will recover, and meet his daughter, Soo Yung, who they originally met at age 10. Now a young lady, her life is also threatened; a group of French speaking Chinese assassins show up at the hospital and are quickly dispatched by Carter and Lee. Reynard offers to take Soo Yung to Paris with him, to protect her. More clues also lead Carter and Lee to Paris where they interact with many wacky Parisians and even more French-speaking Chinese Assassins.
One of the things that makes the first “Rush Hour” a fun movie to watch is you get the sense Carter and Lee actually like each other. They start off as reluctant allies, but during the course of the film, they actually seem to become friends. One of the many things to dislike about “Rush Hour 3” is Carter and Lee don’t seem to like each other; from their first onscreen conversation, Lee seems to be upset with Carter, as though he is holding a grudge for some past slight. So they fight, and Lee tolerates Carter, and they don’t even seem to like each other’s company.
Throughout the series, each of the characters has problems in their development, making them little more than cartoon characters. But in “3”, these problems are no longer overshadowed by other, more enjoyable elements.
I am a big fan of Jackie Chan and have seen a number of his films. Chan is known for a certain style of acrobatic kung fu antics; flying around a confined area, he grabs broomsticks, buckets, footstools and more to use as both weapons and protection against his assailant. As he twists and contorts, using a shirt to hold the assailant’s hands in check, he swings around and gives the villain a quick chop to the leg. Or, they occasionally get the better of him and manage to land a chop. This style of Kung fun is very fast paced, very comical and a lot of fun to watch. In “3”, they attempt to use this a couple of times, the most successful scene is when Lee fights off the “Dragon Lady” (the character’s name in the credits. How enlightened!) Later, he uses the technique during an overlong battle in the big climax. But the action seems very brief in comparison to even the other two films. This may be merely my own perception, but if the action doesn’t seem significant, there is a reason for that. On occasion, it is also pretty easy to spot the use of stuntmen, which is almost amazing considering how fast the editing is. If you can spot a stuntman, it means they did a pretty poor job of making sure they looked like the character they are standing in for, or the camera work was pretty lousy. In the case of “3”, both can be credited to this problem.
Because the “Rush Hour” films also feature Chris Tucker as one of the ‘buddies’, they can’t merely have a lot of hand to hand combat type action scenes. They have to include some car chases. But in “3”, the filming of these car chases seems haphazard, like no one really wanted to do it. As I was watching the film, I kept thinking of television shows from the 70s, shows like “Starsky & Hutch” and “The Streets of San Francisco”. These aren’t bad shows, but they didn’t have the same tools and resources then that they have now. When a modern film looks like it was made in the 70s; all of the action is shot very close, to save money because they don’t have to worry about the background, the camera cuts away from cars before the completion of a stunt, and this look is unintentional, it just points to a lack of passion for the film. Why make it then? I’m sure a boatload of money was dropped at the feet of Brett Rattner, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. They clearly had to cut some corners to maintain their large paydays.
Chris Tucker has had a strange career. A co-starring role in “The Fifth Element”, breakout roles in “Friday”, “Money Talks” and then “Rush Hour” made him a star. Since “Rush Hour”, he has only appeared in the three films of this series. Does he consider these films the pinnacle of the art of filmmaking and nothing else he could do would be able to compete? Maybe. But if this is the case, he needs to rethink this. Tucker is one of a handful of comedians who can appear on screen for a few minutes and that is more than enough in my book. He seems to think it is funny enough to be loud, talk constantly about everything and nothing, and to make a lot of noise. It isn’t enough, Chris.
I know you make a lot of money from these films, but why not give your fans more opportunity to watch you? Clearly, they want to see you as each of these “Hour” films has made a boatload of money. Aren’t there any projects out there you can participate in?
All of this might be forgivable if he was funny at any point in the film. There is a long conversation between Lee and Carter in which Carter argues with him about all of the reasons he doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Lee brings up Carter’s arrest of six Iranian scientists. “But they were terrorists. Everyone knows they were terrorists. You know they were terrorists.” Gosh, that’s funny. Later, there is an attempt to recreate the famous Abbot & Costello routine “Who’s On First?” as the Chinese names of a number of characters confuse Carter. “Who?” “Who is me.” “You are who?” “Yes.” It’s as funny as it reads. Which is not very.
As soon as one of the characters in introduced, you immediately recognize they will be revealed as the villain. It is so painfully obvious that it is, well, just painful. Again, a lack of interest seems to play a role in the shoddy creation of this character.
Then, when they arrive in Paris, they meet a reluctant cabbie who doesn’t want to take Carter’s ‘kind’ in his cab, violent Americans. Naturally, they immediately get into a car chase and the cabbie’s fears are further vindicated.
The pretense for getting Lee and Carter to Paris is a flimsy one, necessary only in the eyes of the director and writers. Each of the films takes place in a different location, presumably to give the two characters a different environment for their madcap adventures. They certainly used up all of the possibilities Los Angeles has to offer in the first film. For the second, they move on to Vegas and Hong Kong. Nothing else to do there, they move on to Paris for “3”. Clearly, they will move on to another international city for the inevitable “4”. Maybe, Moscow. Hey, it makes about as much sense as anything else in these films.
In “3”, upon their arrival in Paris, they immediately meet a French police inspector (Roman Polanski, a friend of Brett Rattner). He has a few minutes with the detectives from Los Angeles, a scene, which has no overall purpose in the story, but it is supposed to be funny. Then they are off to meet the cabbie, fight the villains and try to save the day.
Naturally, if you are a person engaged in criminal activities, and want to get rid of someone, you arrange to meet them in a quiet, nondescript place, to avoid attracting a lot of attention. But because these characters have been transported to Paris, Rattner feels it necessary to use the most recognizable location in all of Paris for the big finale. That’s right, the villains arrange for Carter and Lee to met them at Restaurant Jules Verne, in the heart of the Eiffel Tower. Real nondescript.
Everything about “Rush Hour 3” seems slapdash, as though no one involved was the least concerned about making something slightly entertaining. The screening I attended, a weekday matinee, was pretty full and there was sporadic laughter throughout the audience and the film. The film seemed light on laughter. A bad sign for a comedy.
Does Dino DeLaurentis really see something in Rattner that could lead him to become a great director? Rattner is certainly a successful director. His films have grossed a lot of money. But that doesn’t make him a great director. In order to become a great director, he will need to show some artistic skill. This means he will have to lay off the sequels for a while and try some challenging material. Think about it, how great is a director going to be who only makes sequels? He has directed “Red Dragon”, a sequel to “Silence of the Lambs”, “X-Men 3” and two sequels to the “Rush Hour” films. The same Vanity Fair article trumpets that Rattner now gets $7.5 million per picture. Wow, that’s impressive. But his films aren’t.