New Line Cinema, 1998
Directed by Brett Ratner
By Jason Rothman
Finally, four years after supposedly "coming to America," Jackie Chan has made his first real American movie (let's not count Burn, Hollywood Burn ).
The last few years, Chan has been trying to conquer stateside audiences with re-dubbed versions of his Hong Kong hits . In Rush Hour, he's working with an American director and a (mostly) American cast. That means no lip synching. This time, rather than use his extraordinary skills to enliven a trite, sterotype-laced Asian film, he's using them in a stereotype-laced Hollywood movie.
But the big difference is that Rush Hour actually has a plot -- albeit a thin one --wrapped around the fight scenes. Also key is the presence of a sidekick, Chris Tucker, to carry the burden of the comic relief. Chan can be funny on screen, but it's hard to take him seriously as a bad-ass when he's constantly doing slapstick. Jackie has his funny moments here, but he mostly plays straight man for Tucker.
The story finds Chan as a Hong Kong detective whose diplomat boss moves to America after the colony is handed back to China. When the boss's daughter is kidnapped by a Chinese gang in Los Angeles (during rush hour, get it?), Chan comes to America to help get her back. The FBI wants no help from an Asian inspector, so they try and distract him by sticking him with fast-talking L.A. detective Tucker, doing his 90s variation on Eddie Murphy's old Beverly Hills Cop schtick. Tucker's character won't stand for the babysitting assignment, so, naturally, he and Chan team up to try and solve the case themselves.
They're not partners, they're not brothers and they're not friends -- but it's a Buddy Cop movie, so the rules say they'll learn to respect each other's differences and unite to stop the bad guys. Jackie introduces Tucker to Chinese food, Tucker schools Jackie on 70s funk. Happily, though, it all proves to be far more lively and original than you'd expect from such a cliched premise, and the chemistry between the pair actually works. Tucker, especially, is far less irritating than in some of his previous films (The Fifth Element comes to mind).
Chan's usual brand of acrobatics are on display here. He runs up walls and trees and leaps from bus to trailer to car like a Martial Arts-style Fred Astaire. But there isn't that one breathtaking stunt sequence that really lets him cut loose, and that's the film's one glaring fault. There's nothing here that approaches the brillance of, say, the warehouse scene in Rumble in the Bronx.
But seeing Chan working with a script that provides tension, dramatic stakes and a real villian is pleasure enough. Chan's Hong Kong films are a joy to watch for the stuntwork, but beyond that, most don't do much to keep you involved or invested in the outcome. Rush Hour is a kick in the right direction.