Scott Hardie | August 14, 2001
Yesterday I got a call from the Courier asking me to write a couple of movie reviews ASAP. I wrote about "Rush Hour 2" and "Planet of the Apes," the two most recent movies I'd seen. Even though I already wrote about them here on Tragic Comedy (and some of the material in the reviews was first said here), I'm printing them here anyway, because I feel like it.

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"Rush Hour 2," the sequel to the surprise hit of August 1998, re-teams Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker as mismatched police inspectors who once again stumble onto an international crime ring.

The sequel picks up a few days after the last movie ended, with LAPD detective James Carter (Tucker) visiting Hong Kong, the home of his new pal Lee (Chan). An explosion at the U.S. Embassy interrupts their vacation, and the movie follows Carter and Lee's pursuit of the villains from Hong Kong to Los Angeles and finally to Las Vegas.

Of course, the plot means little in a movie like this, since Chan's quickness in staged combat and Tucker's motormouth comedy routine are the main attractions.

Tucker, in a reversal of the first movie, gets top billing and the bigger paycheck, and the reason becomes clear as he steals the show. He can still be grating with that high voice he adopts when he gets rude, but he is funny both in extended riffs and quick one-liners, and, like Chan, is funniest when making fun of himself.

Middle age may have slowed down Chan, but he's still an amazing sight as he takes on rooms full of armed henchmen, and slips and sneaks his way through enemy turf. An early action scene takes place on a high-rise scaffolding made of flexible bamboo, and Chan characteristically slinks through it faster than the eye can follow.

Comedy has more emphasis than action, however, and there are many scenes of the two heroes just goofing off. Though Lee still doesn't have a first name, his background is explored further, and it is he who gets to flirt with the female lead (Roselyn Sanchez) this time.

Appearing in a minor role as a villain is Ziyi Zhang of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Zhang doesn't speak English and so neither does her character, but she poses a credible threat as a villain, especially in her big fight scene near the end.

Cameos also appear to be in vogue, including Chris Penn (reprising his role as Clive), Saul Rubinek, Harris Yulin, Alan King, and even Don Cheadle.

Obviously, this movie is not designed for every kind of moviegoer, but it has enough charm and energy, and is gentle enough (no blood), for just about any audience. As with most Chan films, the outtakes at the end are hilarious, and there's another joke buried in the text near the end of the credits.

The movie's sole black mark is some unfortunate racism (Carter, among other comments, calls Lee a "monkey"). It's possible to make a comedy about ethnic diversity without using crude slurs.

Though Chan fans may be disappointed by his ever-diminishing range, they'll be treated to an above-average production with high spirits and a quick wit. Tucker fans will find him smarter, funnier, more self-depreciating, and less vulgar than in the past.

"Rush Hour 2" is slightly superior to its predecessor, and is the most fun movie to open in recent weeks.

[I don't know if the Courier uses a star scale, but if it does, I would give it 3 out of 4 stars, or 3.5 out of 5 stars.]

[Note to Tragic Comedy: After I turned in the review, I realized that I forgot to mention Jeremy Piven in the list of actors making cameo appearances. Oh well.]

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Reknowned director Tim Burton uses a $100 million budget and the makeup talents of Rick Baker to "reimagine" the science fiction classic "Planet of the Apes" for modern audiences. It's very well-made, but unfortunately, it's not very good.

The plot concerns an astronaut (Mark Wahlberg) who travels through an electromagnetic storm in space and crash lands on a desert planet, presumably in another dimension. On that planet, apes speak English and use opposable thumbs, and rule with brute force over their human slaves.

The astronaut is captured with the slaves and sold to the liberal daughter (Helena Bonham Carter) of a senator. She thinks humans and apes should live together peacefully, but her former lover, the cruel General Thade (Tim Roth), adamantly growls otherwise. Naturally, the slaves escape, and the heart of the movie is their journey across the desert, to a place where the astronaut thinks he will be rescued.

The apes are all very well-acted, particularly by Bonham Carter, whose character would be unique even if she were human. Roth attacks his lines (and his co-stars) with full gusto, and Michael Clarke Duncan, as his second-in-command, is just as convincingly brutal. Charlton Heston was talked into making a cameo as a dying ape who, without irony, introduces General Thade to a gun.

Unfortunately, the humans don't fare nearly as well. Wahlberg's astronaut, so poorly defined that his name is barely mentioned, underreacts to most of the impossible things around him and doesn't seem capable of emotion. Supermodel Estella Warren plays the human who ostensibly has a crush on the astronaut, but she has a mere handful of lines, and spends most of the movie staring winsomely at the hero.

To be fair, what should be the crowning achievement of the film, its makeup, is fantastic. The apes have complicated and diverse facial makeup with lots of controls for simulated muscles, and hunch down convincingly when they run. The movie should be a shoo-in for Best Makeup at next year's Oscars. The costumes and sets are also top-notch.

What brings the movie down, despite the talent of its creators, is its lack of a proper raison d'être. 20th Century Fox had the rights to the franchise and wanted a sequel, and the film's profitability was apparently enough to get it made.

Tim Burton didn't want to make the movie until Fox offered him a humongous paycheck, and fans of Burton's unique style will find virtually no sign of his personal influence anywhere in this film. It is possible that Wahlberg's flat performance is the result of him not being interested in making the movie, like Burton and apparently like most of the cast and crew.

There was no artistic reason for this movie to be made, no important cultural statement for it to make, not even any popular demand for it. It only exists as a product, and while there's nothing particularly bad about the film, there's very little about it to recommend.

[1.5 out of 4 stars, or 2 out of 5.]


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