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'Rush Hour 3'

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In terms of creative content, "Rush Hour 3" may be one of the most conservation-minded movies ever made. Hardly a joke, stunt, musical interlude or special effect is deployed that doesn't seem to directly reference one or both of the earlier "Rush Hour" movies. Director Brett Ratner, screenwriter Jeff Nathanson and stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker appear to be trying to save the planet one gag at a time by recycling as much material as humanly possible.

As the summer of threes comes to a merciful end, "RH3" (arguably the least anticipated of the season's litany of Part 3s) brings up the rear one week after the third "Bourne" movie opened and three months after "Spider-Man 3." The action buddy-comedy franchise feels worn out, and its insistence on relying on "greatest hits" doesn't help matters, but it still probably possesses enough action set-pieces and mismatched partner humor to satisfy fans of the first two "Rush Hours."

In the new movie, Tzi Ma's consul-general from 1998's "Rush Hour" has been promoted to ambassador and calls upon Chan's Inspector Lee to provide security while he delivers an important speech to the World Criminal Court in downtown Los Angeles. His plan to reveal a piece of secret information that could lead to the downfall of the Triads -- China's dangerous crime organizations -- is thwarted by an assassin's bullet, leading to a reunion of Inspector Lee and Tucker's hyper LAPD detective, James Carter.

Chan and Tucker still project the same chemistry borne of complementary talents that helped establish the franchise in the first place, but the culture-clash conflict between them has given way to the complacency of an old married couple. It's a natural development for the characters, but it creates a dramatic void, leaving the moments between action and comedy feeling increasingly drawn out.

The duo promise the ambassador's daughter (whom they saved as a child in the first movie and is now played as an adult by Zhang Jingchu) that they will protect her and capture the man who tried to kill her father. Also feeling threatened is the World Court's French head, Reynard (Max von Sydow), so everyone decamps for Paris, where the court's next meeting is scheduled.

Enough exposition to sink a much sturdier vehicle is unveiled in order to link Lee to the movie's main villain, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), and set up a vertiginous finale at the Eiffel Tower. While Tucker does his usual verbal riffing, Chan relies more on being the straight man and less on the martial arts this time out.

The fight scenes are all done with workmanlike precision but in some cases feel truncated. With the exception of an amusing "Who's on First?" bit at a Chinatown martial arts studio and some welcome relief provided by French actor Yvan Attal as an initially anti-American cabbie, there's precious little that is fresh or new about the movie. Considering the earlier movies grossed more than $360 million domestically, who's to blame the filmmakers for sticking with the formula?

It's been pointed out that the outtakes that traditionally accompany the closing credits on Jackie Chan movies are sometimes more enjoyable than the movies themselves. If there's a "Rush Hour 4," somebody might want to consider swapping the time allotted to plot with the time devoted to the gag reel. A two-minute movie followed by 89 minutes of outtakes doesn't sound like such a bad deal.

kevin.crust@latimes.com

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of action violence, sexual content. Run time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.

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