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Rush Hour 2

The money is flying in "Rush Hour 2," and it goes above and beyond the much-publicized combined $35 million payday for co-stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. The earnings from the predecessor have been plowed back into this superior sequel, which is the very model of the limber, transnational Hollywood action comedy.

Lee - Jackie Chan Carter - Chris Tucker Ricky Tan - John Lone Hu Li - Zhang Ziyi Isabella - Roselyn Sanchez Agent Sterling - Harris Yulin Steven Reign - Alan King Captain Chin - Kenneth Tsang

The money is flying in “Rush Hour 2,” and it goes above and beyond the much-publicized combined $35 million payday for co-stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. The earnings from the blockbuster predecessor have been smartly plowed back into this superior sequel, which is the very model of the limber, transnational Hollywood action comedy. Money is also what drives the plot, this time a Byzantine, cloak-and-dagger affair rather than the simple kidnapping thriller of the original. And the cash will start being counted at the close of a sure-fire opening weekend, leading to a probable B.O. performance that will at least equal the first movie’s numbers; it’s also sure to display genuine legs as well. Consider the already-discussed part three — which is actually the subject of the final joke during closing credit outtakes — a foregone conclusion.

This closing crack can be seen as the sign of more than a little arrogance on the part of the moviemakers, but like Barry Bonds following his swaggers with knocks out of the ball park, it’s hard to argue with the results. As any good Major League Baseball team owner would do to ensure that his big guns stay, lead producers Arthur Sarkissian and Roger Birnbaum have shrewdly decided to not fiddle with the formula for “2,” which includes not only keeping the essential Chan-Tucker duo, but also helmer Brett Ratner, ace composer Lalo Schifrin, editor Mark Helfrich and casting directors Matthew Barry and Nancy Green-Keyes. And even though there’s a new writer, Jeff Nathanson, aboard, all of the original’s key story elements and alternating tones of goofball antics and deadly serious conflict are studiously yet fluidly preserved.

The sequel picks up literally from previous pic’s airborne ending, which had Chan’s H.K. detective Lee and Tucker’s LAPD gadfly Carter jetting to Lee’s ‘hood for a bit of R & R. But, Lee, workaholic that he is, takes on cases from the moment they land, messing up Carter’s Hong Kong holiday.

When a blonde female is shown leaving a mail bomb in the U.S. Embassy, killing two undercover agents, the key suspect is Triad crime lord Ricky Tan (John Lone). Lee drags Carter to one of Tan’s clubs, and now that Carter is the one out of his element, he makes an instant botch of things when he does a signature karaoke rendition of “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”

And who should lead the attack against our heroes but Zhang Ziyi, who seems to have time-traveled from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” put on a slick leather outfit complete with killer high-heel boots and determined that Jackie Chan is a wimp. She makes an awe-inspiring opponent (going by the unassuming name of Hu Li) who renders Ken Leung’s bad guy in the previous “Rush” a quaint memory. Ratner’s staging and filming of the first fight up and around bamboo scaffolding, however, is a real let-down, though, as always, Schifrin’s full orchestra action music works like an energy boost for the ears.

But Fight No. 2 — in which Lee and Carter go after Tan and his henchmen in an exotic massage parlor — more than makes up for the early flatness. As in the first pic, the fights are hardly of vintage Chan length and endurance, but they are more elaborately conceived and play to Chan’s strength for incorporating as many props as possible into the chop socky.

After a run in the buff back to the police station, the pair is told to lay off the case, with the U.S. supposedly taking charge in the gruff personage of Agent Sterling (Harris Yulin, this edition’s by-the-book older white guy), and it only gets worse when another bomb attack has Lee believing that Carter is dead.

Fear not, for Carter is on the hunt for Tan himself, tailing him to a yacht party in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, where — still trying to mix pleasure with business — he hits on Isabella (Roselyn Sanchez, this edition’s alluring Latina), who is either a Secret Service undercover agent or double-crossing everybody in sight. She is also shadowing, or in cahoots with, Vegas hotel tycoon Steven Reign (Alan King, this edition’s evil older white guy).

When Zhang’s Hu shoots down Tan in front Lee, our heroes are sent packing to L.A. But, before the guys know what hit them, they’re in Vegas right on time for the grand opening of Reign’s lavish Red Dragon Hotel and Casino.While the “Rush Hour” formula requires that Lee have a serious emotional motive — this time, it has to do with evening the score with Tan, who once was his cop father’s partner — it hardly matters, and besides, who has time for it? Especially with the mission here, which is to make a movie clocking in at under 90 minutes containing action that goes to three cities, gives Tucker loads of shtick, provides Chan many bodies to kick, flip and twist, offers three layers of evildoers and has the bonus of the is-she-or-isn’t-she Isabella.As if picking up where they left off in 1998, Chan and Tucker have maintained their chemistry, even though the move to his home turf means that Chan doesn’t have many chances for his previous good-natured, odd-man-out humor. Long after saner, less brilliant physical actors would have retired, Chan still has some extraordinary moves, sliding and ducking as if there’s no such thing as gravity.

Tucker is louder, more aggressive and funnier this time, though there’s always the sense that this electric comic could go overboard.

Lone, who has been MIA in major films since “The Shadow,” refashions himself here as a suave, aging man of mystery, and Sanchez, until now mired mostly in soap operas, has the kind of sex appeal that would have stopped James Coburn’s Flint cold in his tracks. Zhang, of course, owns the screen, and when she locks boot heels with Sanchez, it’s time to get out of the way.

New production reps a step up in all technical and design aspects, while preserving just enough of the original low-rent look. A formula buddy-cop movie, after all, is still a formula buddy-cop movie.

Rush Hour 2

Production: A New Line Cinema release and presentation of an Arthur Sarkissian and Roger Birnbaum production. Produced by Arthur Sarkissian, Roger Birnbaum, Jay Stern, Jonathan Glickman. Executive producers, Andrew Z. Davis, Michael De Luca, Toby Emmerich. Co-executive producer, Leon Dudevoir. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay, Jeff Nathanson; based on the characters created by Ross LaManna.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color and prints, Panavision widescreen), Matthew F. Leonetti; editor, Mark Helfrich; music, Lalo Schifrin; music supervisor, Kathy Nelson; production designer, Terence Marsh; art directors, Andrew Max Cahn, James E. Tocci; set designers, E.C. Chen, Mark Poll, Viva Wang; set decorators, Lance J. Lombardo, Rick Simpson; costume designer, Rita Ryack; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Kim Harris Ornitz; sound designer and supervising sound editor, Tim Chau; visual effects, Cinesite; visual effects supervisor, Kevin Lingenfelser; special effects supervisor, Andre Ellingson; associate producers, Jamie Freitag, Darryl Jones; assistant director, Freitag; Hong Kong unit supervising producer, Charles Wang; stunt coordinator and second unit camera, Conrad E. Palmisano; casting, Matthew Barry, Nancy Green-Keyes. Reviewed at New Line screening room, L.A., July 23, 2001. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: Lee - Jackie Chan Carter - Chris Tucker Ricky Tan - John Lone Hu Li - Zhang Ziyi Isabella - Roselyn Sanchez Agent Sterling - Harris Yulin Steven Reign - Alan King Captain Chin - Kenneth Tsang

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