1998, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Elizabeth Peña, Tzi Ma, Julia Hsu, Philip Baker Hall, Rex Linn.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 25, 1998
What is it about the troublesome transfer of Hong Kong action stars and directors to working within the Hollywood system? John Woo, Tsui Hark, Stanley Tong, and certainly last but not least Chan himself have seen their formidable talents reduced to a cookie-cutter sort of lowest-common-denominator wimpiness that leaves their domestically produced work hollow and relatively uninspired compared with their maverick firestorms back in the former crown colony. Does Immigration and Naturalization force them to check their chutzpah at the border? Someone look into this, I beg you. While Woo has managed (with great difficulty) to make the studio system work for him -- or perhaps he's learned to work around it -- this new buddy cop mishmash by Ratner (Money Talks) under-utilizes both Chan's manic comic energy and his legendary martial artistry. It's Chan Lite: less filling, tastes grate. Much of the grating comes in the form of sidekick Chris Tucker, a comic actor whose spastic, nitrous oxide stylings occasionally make even Jim Carrey look positively lachrymose by comparison. Here they're teamed as the prerequisite daffy duo, with Tucker's LAPD Detective James Carter the brash, flamboyant (and woefully in need of a suspension) upstart, and Chan's fish-out-of-water Lee as a transplanted HK Detective Inspector hot on the trail of a mysterious Asian gangster who has relocated to the greener pastures of Los Angeles and promptly kidnapped the new Hong Kong Consul's young daughter. When the F.B.I. takes the case, Carter is chosen to babysit the intense Lee and keep him out of the way of the investigation. From this slapdash pairing evolves a numbing series of gags involving, among other things, Chinese food, the language barrier, hip hop music vs. the Beach Boys, and all manner of lowbrow cheese poofery. Originality, that most dangerous of Hollywood's 700 deadly sins, is conspicuous in its absence, and though Tucker's bug-eyed histrionics do elicit a few chuckles from time to time, Rush Hour is in desperate need of a laugh track. For his part, Chan is relegated to a few smirky asides while Tucker hogs the show, and when it comes to Ratner's handling of the action sequences, the less said the better. Like all martial artists (and physical actors in general), Chan needs a full shot to do his work. What Ratner gives us instead is a disjointed and often confusing series of close-ups, two-shots, and the like that may well leave Chan initiates puzzling over all the international fuss. While it's always a rush to see Chan ingratiate himself before the camera, and therefore the audience, this is hardly the showcase for his myriad talents. Instead, Rush Hour falls into the same old buddy cop niche as so many other films before. There may be nothing new under the sun, but you can bet your life there's absolutely nothing new about Rush Hour at all.