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Rush Hour 3 

Third installment skids franchise to a grinding halt

Genre: Mismatched buddy-cop sequel

The pitch: After an attempted assassination of the Chinese ambassador (Tzi Ma of TV's "24"), LAPD's Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) and China's Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) bicker all the way to Paris to take down some Triad gangsters. This time, they're both fish out of water!

Money shots: Lee climbing up and down overpasses while pursuing a suspect through Los Angeles traffic. Lee and Carter fight an unbelievably huge guy (Sun Ming Ming) at a martial-arts school. Lee jumps to the top of a door frame to avoid a knife. Lee and Carter fight and chase the bad guys along, inevitably, the Eiffel Tower. Lee makes an oddly charming sight when riding a trapeze and singing "Closer I Get to You" at a cabaret.

Worst line: "He is Mi and I am Yu," declares a martial-arts master in a shockingly perfunctory rip-off of Abbott and Costello's old "Who's on first?" routine. The film's use of Asian names for laughs seems pretty desperate.

Better line: "You tell this piece of S-word that I will personally F-word him up!" Carter instructs a translating nun to inform a French-speaking suspect who used "the N-word."

Best line: "I will never know what it's like to be an American, never know what it's like to kill for no reason!" moans French cab driver George (actor/filmmaker Yvan Attal). George starts as an America-basher who mocks the U.S. failures in Vietnam and Iraq, then falls under the spell of action-movie excitement.

Flesh factor: Very, um, cheeky, especially when Carter pretends to be a costume designer so he can line up some thronged French chorus girls.

Hit single: Reduced to a traffic cop early on, Carter does his trademark dance moves to Prince's "Do Me Baby" in the first scene. Lee's beloved "California Girls" turns up in both a ring tone and in the throat of a French busker. A montage of Elton John's "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" teasingly accompanies a montage when the pals are fighting.

Depressing cameo: Roman Polanski, legendary director of Chinatown and The Pianist, turns up to pull on some rubber gloves as a cavity-searching French inspector.

Pop reference: On a TV in France, Carter watches the French-subtitled scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Short Round declares, "Hold onto your potatoes!" See, cheap ethnic stereotyping has been going on for generations.

Better than the first two? No. They're all kind of crummy, interrupting the loud comedy and louder action with some still-decent stunt work from Chan (now 53 years old). The first Rush Hour may be the best, but only because it's the least familiar. By now, even the funny outtakes during the closing credits seem calculated.

The bottom line: Fast-talking Tucker and fast-moving Chan make such a natural comic team that it's a shame three-time director Brett Ratner never built them a vehicle with witty jokes or racial insight. Nearly 10 years after the first Rush Hour, the sophisticated genre filmmaking of Ocean's 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum make the franchise's tired buddy-cop clichés seem like it's stuck in first gear. 1 star

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