“Greed will imprison us all,” one of the villains (the venerable Alan King) intones late in the sequel to Brett Ratner’s surprise 1997 buddy-flick smash, giving us the moral of a Chinese folk- tale he’d earlier narrated. It’s a lesson that applies especially well to the makers of “Rush Hour 2,” a sloppily constructed, frantically humorless retread that seems devoted to making money rather than providing much entertainment value.

The original picture wasn’t much, but it at least gave Jackie Chan a Hollywood showcase for his limber-limbed talents. Chris Tucker, who played James Carter, the loudmouthed L.A. cop saddled with Chan’s Hong Kong detective Lee, was decidedly the second banana in the equation, and the fact that his shrieking wasn’t constant came as a relief. In the current installment, unfortunately, the emphasis has been reversed. Tucker is the fish out of water as a Californian visiting Hong Kong, and he’s definitely the center of the cinematic universe, with Chan playing a pallid second fiddle to him. (It looks as though New Line has decided that Chris is the Next Big Thing in action comedies, but it’s difficult to believe that a soprano leading man will have much staying power.) The ramshackle plot has something to do with a bombing at the U.S. embassy, which eventually comes to involve Ricky Tan (John Lone), a Triad kingpin who happens to have been the partner of Lee’s dead father; an icy, fighting-machine type executioner (Zhang Ziyi); an alluring secret agent (Roselyn Sanchez); an irascible FBI man (Harris Yulin); and the obligatory billionaire crook (King). There are all sorts of twists and turns, but they’re nothing but messy excuses for hysterical comic set-pieces (in which Tucker invariably engages in a loud harangue), many of which also involve fights (in which Chan does his shtick and Tucker over-intrudes). Everything comes to a head in a big confrontation in a Las Vegas casino, the action having moved back to the States about halfway through, presumably to allow Tucker to strut his jive-talking street stuff with fewer limitations.

What’s really sad about “Rush Hour 2” is that perhaps Tucker could make a decent impression under different circumstances, but though he might be a perfectly pleasant person in real-life, the character of Carter is such a loquacious imbecile, and Tucker plays him so fiercely, that in this role he’s practically insufferable. Chan is almost incidental at most points, and Ziyi–so great in both “Crouching Tiger” and “The Road Home”–is completely wasted. It’s nice to see Lone on screen again after what seems years of absence, but the silken malevolence he’s forced to convey is old-hat stuff. Sanchez is attractive but dull and King a cipher. Don Cheadle appears, unbilled, in a cameo turn as the owner of a Chinese soul food restaurant. Ratner lacks any lightness of touch in organizing things, while Lalo Schifrin, of all people, provides a thoroughly forgettable score.

There are precisely two genuinely funny moments in this otherwise sad sequel. One is a throwaway line about Lionel Ritchie. The other is the last of the out-takes played over the final crawls–a Chan tradition, of course. In it, Tucker breaks up a scene involving a villain who’s just been disposed of by noting, “He’s not gonna be in ‘Rush Hour 3.'” One can only hope that nobody else will be, either. This installment will probably do business simply on the basis of the affection many moviegoers still feel for its predecessor, but they’ll be disappointed. “Shanghai Noon” was far funnier and its action sequences much more clever. That’s not to say it needs a sequel, though. It might turn out to be as tepid as “Rush Hour 2.”