Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Ken Leung, Tzi Ma, Elizabeth Pena with Chris Penn and Tom Wilkinson
Plot: When the Chinese consul’s daughter gets kidnapped, he calls for a trusted agent from China (Chan) to help the FBI find her.
The aim of Rush Hour is a very simple one: Brett Ratner’s attempt to revitalise the buddy cop genre, something that hasn’t really been truly tackled since the diminishing Lethal Weapon sequels. While it perhaps clings too tightly to tricks of the past and ultimately, is more of a pleasant hit than a film that aims to set the world on fire, Rush Hour is exactly what is needed for a Friday night action.
The two sides of the coin in this pairing are Chris Tucker’s fast-talking LAPD cop and Jackie Chan’s charismatic Chinese agent. Let’s start with Tucker. Essentially, if his comic presence doesn’t impress, Rush Hour could become a very painful two hours for the viewer. Tucker is a cross between Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy, constantly talking and cracking jokes, when he should be focused on the task at hand. Seeing as Eddie Murphy gave birth to some of the classic buddy cop movies, he does feel like both Ratner and Tucker desperately trying to find some familiar ground. As a result, it is hard to see Tucker more than anything but a pale imitation from the legend who is Eddie Murphy. While Murphy’s characters were often talented police officers, but with the social skills of a ADHD Tasmanian Devil, Tucker’s James Carter is never established as a good police officer. His opening bust is an explosive disaster, featuring two beat cops getting shot and the evidence getting blown sky high. As a result, when he antagonises his colleagues, namely Elizabeth Pena’s excellently monotone and sardonic demolition expert, and roams from scene to scene quipping wildly, that is what you remember him for, rather than a cop to be reckoned with. What his antics do do very well is give Jackie Chan, the second half of this dynamic duo, a lot of material to bounce off against. Rush Hour is very guilty of, rather than writing two interesting cop characters, simply throwing Tucker and Chan on-screen and asking them to be exactly that: Tucker and Chan. But there are no complaints when we get Jackie Chan on firm action hero territory. When Chan turns up in the U.S.A, expecting help with finding the consul’s daughter and receiving Tucker’s annoying LAPD agent asked to babysit him and keep him out of trouble, he enters quiet, observant and crafty mode. Chan is a very charismatic performer and can handle comedy just as well as Tucker (some may argue to a better degree), making for some great comedy timing. When Chan is asked to stoop to Tucker’s level of comedy, using martial arts to dance in the street for example, he makes these beats work better than you’d expect.
Chan also means that the action side of things is just as great as you want them to be. While Rush Hour is definitely more focused on fun, far too much of the running time spent on laughing at the odd pairing (most of the film involves conflict between the good guys rather than taking on the bad guys), when it does finally get to the fighting, there are no complaints. And this is all Chan’s doing. With a talented performer like Jackie Chan, any director and editor have a dream scenario. There is no need for a frantic edit during a punch-up to hide the fact that the actor in the role cannot actually fight. When Jackie Chan takes out three thugs in one combo, he actually does it. It means the little bits impress, like Jackie Chan free-running up a wall to get to an out-of-reach ladder. When he hops up a shipping container to avoid being crushed by another one, we feel the thrills so much more. Chan’s fight scenes are endlessly entertaining as he uses anything at his disposal to take out his foes. Small flourishes scream ingenuity. Chan uses pool balls to smash down on an enemy’s knuckles, he uses a chair to manoeuvre around assailants better and seeing him fight his way through an embassy while his hands are cuffed to a steering wheel is endlessly entertaining. Look out for one scene that sees him fight a bunch of bad guys, while trying to protect some priceless Chinese art. The result is simple, yet effective fun. And Rush Hour ends up being the kind of film that is better because of the little things than the big things. The plot is a mish-mash of vague action genre staples: a sneering Brit as the villain, a kidnapped child, incompetent cops trying to help the two heroes. We’ve done this all before. But it does mean that Ratner can focus more attention on the fights, jokes and explosions. Perhaps that’s enough.
Final Verdict: Chan is electrifying, while Tucker will be the diversifying factor. However, as brain-dead fun, Rush Hour excels.