An appealing hyperkinetic energy gives a much-needed jolt to the otherwise routine plot machinations of "Rush Hour," the thriller pairing comedian Chris Tucker with Hong Kong action king Jackie Chan.
Credit for those buzzing visuals might go to director Brett Ratner, who cranked out 75 music videos before switching to the big screen for last year's "Money Talks," also starring Tucker.
Ratner's sophomore feature, then again, owes much of its success as a sure-fire crowd pleaser to the contrasting styles of its two leads, who pair up to nab the kidnappers of a 10-year-old Chinese girl.
Tucker, a serious scene stealer in "Jackie Brown" and "The Fifth Element," is an inventive motormouth whose incessant chatter turns ever louder, faster, higher-pitched and annoying to others when he's frustrated. He's an even more over-the-top version of that other popular stand-up comic with the same first name.
Chan, an Asian superstar who made his American breakthrough with 1996's "Rumble in the Bronx," is the strong but silent one in this classically mismatched pair of buddies. A martial-arts expert who studied with the Peking Opera, he does his own death-defying stunts and increasingly takes cues from such silent-film greats as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
Together, the two make an eminently watchable, always entertaining team. Imagine a funnier, more potent version of the newfangled but tired trio -- Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Chris Rock -- from the latest "Lethal Weapon" blockbuster, and you've got the "Rush Hour" pals. The latter film, for better and worse, bears some resemblance to its summer predecessor. Both feature Los Angeles Police Department officers working in Chinatown, evil Asian crime lords, violent fights, car chases, fiery explosions, cross-cultural misunderstandings and rather vicious stereotyping and insults passed off as bad-boy humor.
Tucker, in "Rush Hour," is Carter, another one of those unconventional cops who gets the job done while endangering peers, leaving costly destruction in the wake of his derring-do and creating headaches for his superiors (ring any bells?). He's also conflicted about his role as an employee of the often maligned L.A.P.D. "My own mom's ashamed of me," he says. "She tells everybody I'm a drug dealer."
The rogue officer, told he's being rewarded for capturing explosives expert Clive (Chris Penn), is assigned by the F.B.I. to baby-sit Lee (Chan), a Royal Hong Kong Police detective in town to help old friend Consul Han (Tzi Ma) find his kidnapped child (Julia Hsu). Bottle-blond bad guy Juntao (Tom Wilkinson), as it turns out, is the same criminal mastermind who murdered Lee's partner.
We know the drill by now: Carter and Lee, unable to resist temptation, reluctantly rely on daring teamwork to foul up the F.B.I. investigation, discover a traitor and save the day. They successfully duke it out with opponents everywhere from South Central pool halls to Chinese restaurants, from alleyways to a cavernous convention center housing the Chinese Expo.
Much of "Rush Hour" is amusing, and the film only occasionally falls flat. Chan, too, manages some funny references to his own career, at one point wandering in front of Mann's Chinese Theater, where the actor added his own hand prints two years ago. Later, while riding atop a double-decker bus, he latches onto a "Hollywood" sign, perilously dangling over traffic at the corner of Hollywood and Vine before making another getaway. Yep, he's arrived.