Rush Hour 2 (12)

Review by Jack Foley

IT HAS been nearly four years since Rush Hour, another in a seemingly gridlocked line of mis-matched cop partnership thrillers, surprised many by raking in the cash at the US Box Office during the September of 1998.

The pairing of Hong Kong's premier martial arts maestro Jackie Chan with US motormouth comedian Chris Tucker had looked far from being a sure thing (and didn't have the presence of a Mel Gibson or a Danny Glover), but, contrary to initial worries, the movie proved a big hit.

Certainly, for sheer breathless energy and on-screen chemistry, it delivered in spades, so it was hardly a surprise when a sequel was commissioned. The only question was, could the formula be repeated quite so successfully?

But if anything, the makers behind Rush Hour 2 have surpassed the original, turning in a barnstormer of a movie which delivers on set pieces, revives and improves an already enjoyable partnership and ends up being funnier than its predecessor.

Picking up pretty much where the original left off, director Brett Ratner's sequel finds Tucker's LAPD detective James Carter as the fish out of water in Hong Kong, hoping to enjoy a vacation, but being drawn into a multi-million dollar smuggling ring between Hong Kong and the US.

Initially intent on enjoying the hidden delights of Hong Kong, Carter reluctantly teams up with Chan's Chief Inspector Lee when it becomes apparent that the man behind the counterfeit operation - John Lone's smarmy Ricky Tan - had a hand in Ch Insp Lee's father's death years earlier.

And it isn't long before the mayhem kicks in and the inept but intrepid duo find themselves pitted against possibly rogue Secret Service agents (played by newcomer Roselyn Sanchez and veteran Harris Yulin) and Tan's sadistic sidekick, Hu Li (played with relish by Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), who has a fondness for delivering package bombs.

If the plot sounds like merely an excuse for the action, then consider that this, at the end of the day, is a sequel and that the real joy to be had is in the set pieces - which arrive within minutes of each other to keep things moving at breakneck pace.

It is the outrageous stunts we have come to see and Chan and co waste no time in delivering; making up for the lack of an original plot with a series of brilliantly orchestrated fight sequences which delight in their ingenuity. For starters, Tucker and Chan fight a gang of henchmen on bamboo scaffolding, before turning up for a re-match in a massage parlour, on a boat and then in a Las Vegas casino for the finale.

And while Chan may not be the world's greatest actor, there is no doubting his athletic ability or the fact that his energy knows no bounds (sit tight for the out-takes to see just how far the actor will go to perfect a scene!). His interplay with his partner has also been developed well.

Tucker, on the other hand, manages to refrain from being annoying and shamelessly hogs the majority of the movie's funniest moments - be it singing Michael Jackson's `Don't Stop Til You Get Enough' in a karaoke bar full of Triads, or simply trying to outdo Ziyi's jaw-dropping agility when kicking butt (he seldom does!).

The one complaint is that anyone who saw Ziyi in Crouching Tiger may feel she has been criminally under-used here (she is curiously denied a major fight scene with Chan); but that is of minor concern given the general mayhem and carnage on show (Carter and Lee make the Keystone Cops look like experts by comparison).

Of the remaining supporting players, Sanchez's curvaceous agent adds some romantic interest while proving herself to be a star to look out for, while Lone is a suitably slimy, if somewhat restrained, central villain.

The film is also to be applauded for throwing in a couple of hilarious (and uncredited) cameos, guaranteed to put at least one smile on your face.

In a summer that promised so much in the way of creativity (with the likes of Pearl Harbor, Swordfish, Tomb Raider, and the upcoming Final Fantasy), it is, perhaps, ironic that the majority of the best fun to be had (Shrek aside) was in sequels such as this and Jurassic Park III.

My advice? Stick with what you know and you might not be as disappointed. Rush Hour 2 knows what its audience wants and sets about delivering it with breathless abandon. Like last year's other Chan vehicle, Shanghai Noon, it is a blast from start to finish.