MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Jackie Chan (Detective Inspector Lee), Chris Tucker (Detective James Carter), Tom Wilkinson (Thomas Griffin), Elizabeth Pena (Tania Johnson), Tzi Ma (Consul Han), Julia Hsu (Soo Yung)
"Rush Hour" is less a movie than it is a vehicle for its two stars. The first clue is the title--the phrase "Rush Hour" has nothing to do with the plot, characters, theme, or even an event in the movie. It is merely a game of semantics, meant to convey action, movement, and excitement (although, ironically, the phrase "rush hour" should convey quite the opposite: frustration, gridlock, and standing still). However, despite the fact that the movie itself is as shallow and simplistic as the meaningless title would indicate, it has just enough charisma and outright gumption to get the job done.
The movie's tag line promises the bringing together of "the fastest hands in the East" and "the biggest mouth in the West." The hands, of course, belong to Jackie Chan, the speedy martial arts master who has starred in dozens upon dozens of interchangeable Hong Kong action flicks, but is still trying to find that one really big hit in the States.
The mouth belongs to Chris Tucker, the comedic actor who talks as fast and furiously as Chan fights. Tucker chatters like a speed locomotive, with his high-pitched voice turning entire sentences into the equivalent of one word. Like Chan, he is also looking for that first really big hit after first gaining notice in "Friday" in 1995, one year before Chan had his first passable America success with "Rumble in the Bronx." Although Tucker received his share of attention in "Money Talks" (1997) with Charlie Sheen and in Luc Besson's campy sci-fi extravaganza "The Fifth Element" (1997), he is still a far cry from being the late 90s' version of an early 80s' Eddie Murphy.
"Rush Hour" is obviously designed to showcase the talents of Chan and Tucker--fighting and talking, respectively. The script by Jim Kouf ("Stakeout") and Ross LaManna is simple and juvenile, but luckily it has no pretensions. This is an action comedy buddy movie, and whether you enjoy it or not relies completely on how you take the two actors. Chan and Tucker both exude their own brand of charisma (Chan's is more gentle and understated while Tucker's is like a sledgehammer), and their chemistry together isn't bad. Being opposites, they play off each other well, although Tucker's fighting skills are about as klutzy as Chan's English.
What passes for the movie's plot revolves around a kidnapping involving the daughter of a Chinese diplomat in the United States. The diplomat (Tzi Ma) wants one of his own people, Detective Inspector Lee (Chan), to help the FBI on the case. Of course, the FBI agents are the typical hard-nosed, bureaucratic jerks as they're always depicted in movies of this sort. So, it's not surprising that they don't want some visiting Chinese detective interfering with their case. Therefore, they recruit rebel LAPD detective James Carter (Tucker) to baby-sit him. Carter thinks he's finally gotten his big break working with the FBI, and he is quite peeved when he learns what his job really entails.
"Rush Hour" plays like "Lethal Weapon" Lite. It's the same premise--differing police detectives forced to work together to solve an important case--but instead of the differences being social, they're cultural. "Rush Hour" gets away with quite a bit of borderline racial and cultural jokes--they actually form the foundation of the movie's comedy. Luckily, most of the jokes land because no one in the movie takes them seriously. Tucker's character spews most of the potentially offensive quips, all of which are about Asians, but his jive, wisecracking delivery is so quick and so clean that you can't help but laugh. However, it is Chan who gets the most dangerous joke (literally), when he follows Tucker's example in an all-black bar by asking the bartender quite jovially, "What'sup, my nigga?"
Jackie Chan fans will likely be disappointed because, despite his getting top billing in the credits, he spends most of the movie playing second-fiddle to Tucker. Part of it may be due to the sheer size of Tucker's presence--his voice, demeanor, and volume simply demand that you pay attention to him, and Chan is usually forced to play the straight man.
However, the fact that the director, Brett Ratner, is not very good at staging action sequences doesn't help. Chan moves with grace and speed, but much less can be said of the camerawork. Ratner is much better at staging dialogue, which means he just sits back and lets Tucker's mouth roll on its own (something Ratner may have learned while directing Tucker in "Money Talks").
Chan is a mediocre actor at best, so the enjoyment of seeing him on-screen is watching his amazing physical feats. The fight sequences in "Rush Hour" have a few exhilarating moments, but they are few and far between. Most of it pales in comparison to Chan's earlier movies, which makes one wonder if he might be getting too old for some of the more dangerous fare he might have attempted five or ten years ago. Let's hope not.
Copyright ©1998 James Kendrick