This time around - to hell with jurisdictions - the officers fly to Paris and investigate the attempted assassination of a Chinese diplomat for whom Lee once served as bodyguard. The prime suspects are Chinese triads.
From a Godfather-esque hospital-room sequence to a set piece at the Eiffel Tower where gangsters and gangbusters tangle in the iron latticework, the script by Jeff Nathanson is a catch-as-catch-can pastiche of Coppola and Hitchcock.
Nathanson's best invention: a cabbie (Yvan Attal) who denounces America and its love of car chases, guns and violence. And who, after a few minutes in Carter and Lee's vehicle-chasing, gunplaying, butt-kicking company, is ready to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Now 53, Chan is no longer the athlete and martial artist he once was. But he has a few sequences - including a foot chase through downtown L.A. up and across freeway ramps - that would take your breath away if you weren't already gasping from laughter.
Still Chan, he of the polite deadpan, has exquisite poise and timing that play nicely off Tucker's rude banter. The martial artist can almost always kick, whirl or vault past any obstacle; the con artist can almost always talk his way past. They are opposites whose singular strengths make them unstoppable as a team.
Ratner, a hack who only the charitable would call workmanlike, is the sloppiest of filmmakers, editing scenes so abruptly, or arbitrarily, that the audience doesn't have time to laugh - let alone hear the next snatch of jokey dialogue.
Working with the elegant cinematographer J. Michael Muro, Ratner does a spectacularly crummy job in integrating Muro's lustrous imagery with the special effects. It's as if a world-class chef had made a souffle and Ratner punctured it.
While Rush Hour 2 boasted some strong female characters (played by Zhang Ziyi and Roselyn Sanchez), this time around the women are mostly decorative.
The striking Noemie Lenoir plays Genevieve, a scantily clad beauty who headlines a Folies Bergeres-type revue and who carries a dangerous secret. And the adorable Zhang Jingchu is on hand as Soo Yung, the diplomat's daughter who has little to do.
Finally, this is a buddy movie, which means the only significant relationship is that between Carter and Lee, who trade insults, diet advice and gibes while watching each other's backs.
Vladimir Nabokov wasn't talking about Rush Hour when he observed that "nothing is more exhilarating than philistine vulgarity," but he might well have been.
Rush Hour 3 **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Brett Ratner. With Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Max von Sydow, Yvan Attal, Vinnie Jones, Hiroyuki Sanada, Sun Ming Ming, Noemie Lenoir and Zhang Jingchu. Distributed by New Line Cinema.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, sexual banter, action violence, brief nudity)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl,"at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/