Routine, flat summer sequels ("Scary Movie 2," anyone?) are about as inevitable as death, taxes and the fawning raves of broadcast reviewers. So it's no big shock that "Rush Hour 2" disappoints. The encore pairing of Chinese martial-arts comic actor Jackie Chan and manic African-American motormouth comedian Chris Tucker offers a variation on a formula that wasn't that inspired the first time around -- the $141 million domestic gross for 1998's "Rush Hour" notwithstanding.
Chan returns as Chief Inspector Lee of the Royal Hong Kong Police, and Tucker resumes his role as LAPD detective James Carter. The characters have something more in common than the gang-related adventures they shared in the first movie: Their respective fathers, also cops, were killed while on the job. Still, similar backgrounds plus shared professional interests doesn't add up to personal chemistry. Nor do their opposing temperaments inspire much interest. Lee is all action and little talk; Carter, all talk and little action -- yet they don't interact in a fashion that's remotely compelling. This salt-and-pepper buddy-cop routine has been done before, and better: Remember Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in 1987's "Lethal Weapon" and its sequels? Even better, how about Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 1982's "48 Hrs?"
"Rush Hour II" is built on the flimsiest of premises for a sequel. Last time, Lee was the fish out of water, trying to navigate the culture and crimes of Southern California. For the new one, West goes East, as the antsy Carter decides to vacation in China (on a policeman's salary?) and enjoy the sights with his old pal. Predictably, cross-cultural faux pas are committed as the overeager American tries to hit on a variety of young Asian beauties and mercilessly mangles the language. Ho ho.
In an early showdown set in a massage parlor, the mismatched buddies take on an endless procession of baddies employed by Ricky Tan (John Lone), the head of the Fu-Cang-Long Triad. The sequence sets up the general, rather obvious structure of "Rush Hour II," whose dynamics are roughly equivalent to those of horror or porno. The money shots, in this case, are a variety of witty, smartly choreographed kung-fu sequences. In between those big set pieces -- including a tussle in a karaoke bar and an explosive smackdown inside a Las Vegas casino funded by a corrupt millionaire (Alan King) -- rest numerous scenes of contrived, pointless drama.
The sequel's thin plot centers on a bloody assassination campaign carried out by pretty, mad bomber Hu Li (Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), an associate of Tan's. There's an American financial connection, and somehow caught up in the intrigue is the seductive Isabella Molin (Roselyn Sanchez), a U.S. Secret Service agent who may or may not be operating on the wrong side of the law. For good measure, big explosions are thrown into the mix. The best way to avoid a letdown: Go in with low expectations.