After the $141 million nationwide gross of its predecessor, “”Rush Hour 2″” was as inevitable as death and taxes. In New Line’s mind, a franchise was born out of the marriage of motor-mouth Chris Tucker and fleet-footed Jackie Chan. Why, then, did it take them three years to crank out a sequel, allowing the once fresh premise of this far-fetched pairing to go stale and the stars’ unique chemistry to cool?
As a result, “”Rush Hour 2″” is a lukewarm serving of similar material, microwaved long enough for audience consumption, but one that will leave you unfulfilled and hungry for something else. And don’t think the door hasn’t been flung wide open for “”Rush Hour 3,”” but more on that later.After a hurried intro, the sequel catches up with Detective Inspector Lee (Chan) and Detective James Carter (Tucker) as they attempt to vacation in Hong Kong. The problem is Lee, who’s incessant desire to work keeps interrupting Carter’s R&R. After a bomb delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong takes out two undercover customs agents, Lee and Carter reluctantly get involved.The duo’s suspect is Ricky Tan (John Lone), the wicked leader of the criminal Triads. Conveniently, Tan happens to be the ex-cop partner, and probable executioner, of Lee’s deceased father. And Tan’s not alone. He’s employed a silent, bloodthirsty female strong-arm named Hu Li (“”Crouching Tiger”” star Zhang Ziyi) who’s as quick with a kick as Carter is with a quip.Through no feats of exceptional detecting, Carter and Lee uncover Tan’s true motivations involving counterfeit plates issued by the United States Treasury department to the Shah of Iran that create undetectable “”super bills.”” An undercover Secret Service agent, coolly played by Roselyn Sanchez, even tags along for the fun, though her primary role seems to be feeding these dull-witted detectives somewhat obvious clues. It’s all just a tremendous excuse to jet Carter and Lee from Hong Kong to L.A. and, eventually, to Vegas, where the inexhaustible Carter can blend in with the tawdry scenery and ceaseless noise.Since Tucker hasn’t worked on another film since the first “”Rush Hour,”” it’s easy to see how or why he would bring nothing new to his predominantly one-dimensional character. It’s hard to tell if this is Tucker’s vision of Carter, or just his acting style. Tucker’s delivery resembles a blindfolded man in a closet full of chairs; sooner or later he’s bound to hit something. So for every minute of screentime director Brent Ratner allows him, Tucker fires away. Mathematically, he’s bound to say something funny in time, and he does manage to hit a few zingers, all at the expense of some race or ethnicity. You sift through a lot of jibber before you hit the jabber, and the payoff isn’t always rewarding.Even Chan looks tired next to Tucker, and it’s not because if his grueling action scenes. While the nimble karate expert no doubt performed his own stunts in this film, as he’s wont to do, his well-choreographed scenes in “”Rush Hour 2″” are decidedly shorter than we’re used to in a Chan film. No sooner does the elfin fighter build up steam aboard a cruise ship or in the back room of a casino then he’s felled by a well-placed kick, usually delivered by Ziyi. Waiting for a knuckle-cracking face-off between the two martial artists? Keep waiting. Ziyi must fight, and lose to, Tucker at the film’s climax, while Chan has to resolve his conflict with a gun, which definitely isn’t his style.While the plot of “”Rush Hour 2″” does improve over the simplistic kidnapping elements of the first installment, there’s still not a lot to work with here. Hoping not to alienate its core audience, the film takes few chances, borrowing set-ups and jokes line-for-line from the original. Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (“”Speed 2: Cruise Control””) leave plenty of room for improvisation, which Tucker just can’t fill with his scathing racial observations.The highlight of the film comes in the outtakes that run during the credits. At some point, we need to see a feature-length film of just Chan outtakes, as they always prove to be so entertaining. The much-lauded chemistry between Tucker and Chan finally shows when the two loose-lipped stars aren’t tied to a tongue-tripping script and they can just be themselves. And it’s here, buried in these clever clips, that Tucker shrewdly mentions the inevitable sequel, “”Rush Hour 3.”” At least we should have until 2004 to prepare.GRADE: C