In 'Rush Hour 3,' a yin-yang duo, stretched to the max

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker meet again in the third installment of the buddy-cop franchise. Buckle up.

"Rush Hour 3" comes six years after "Rush Hour 2." At this rate, Jackie Chan better think twice about doing a "Rush Hour 4." There are only so many pratfalls a 50-something guy can withstand.

His costar Chris Tucker, on the other hand, hasn't made a movie since "Rush Hour 2" and yet his motor mouth is in fine working order.

The yin-yang combo of these two stars has always been the heart of the franchise. They don't just look funny together, they sound funny together. But a little of their East meets West, Abbott and Costello routine goes a long way with me, and, in this third installment, the shtick has worn thin.

Los Angeles Police Department detective Carter (Tucker) has been demoted to traffic cop and Chinese inspector Lee (Chan) is a bodyguard to the Chinese ambassador (Tzi Ma) first seen in "Rush Hour." The ambassador is shot in Los Angeles just before he is about to divulge the inner workings of the Chinese Triad crime syndicate to the World Criminal Court, spurring Lee to chase the shooter on foot around the city.

Chan does a yeoman job of huffing and puffing his way through a series of amusingly daring calisthenic routines. But watching them, I worried more about Chan than his character.

The action soon shifts to Paris, a move that seems calculated to both show off the city and take pot shots at the French. A cabdriver (Yves Attal) who scurries the two cops around is a Gallic cartoon who wears a Lakers cap and thinks all Americans like to kill for no reason. If this movie, directed by series stalwart Brett Ratner, wasn't so dunderheaded, I'd almost believe this guy's love-hate for the US was meant as political commentary.

He's not the only Frenchman who gets trounced. In an unbilled cameo, Roman Polanski plays a police chief who is only slightly less sadistic than the character he played in "Chinatown." This time, the cruelty is meant to be funny. Quel dommage.

While we're on the subject of famous names of international cinema, Max Von Sydow also turns up as the head of the World Criminal Court in one of those parts that great actors take on when they want to buy some beachfront property.

Ratner, who has been accurately dubbed a "fauxteur," does an OK job keeping the action swirling, especially in the finale atop the Eiffel Tower. But there's no particular reason to have kept this franchise going except for commercial expediency. That may also be true of just about every other franchise movie this summer, from "Shrek" to "Bourne," but the wheeziness factor here is particularly apparent. Grade: B–

Sex/nudity: 7 instances, including fleeting nudity. Violence: 20 scenes of comic violence, including fight scenes and an assassination. Profanity: 40 strong expressions. Cigarettes/drugs/alcohol: 2 scenes of alcohol, 2 scenes of tobacco.

Rated PG-13

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