The best part of Rush Hour is the end credits, which, like all Jackie Chan movies, show us the outtakes of Chan when his stunts go wrong. These blooper reels, which sometimes show Chan really hurting himself, give you a greater admiration of Chan as a highly skilled human being who has to sweat and work to do this stuff (because the sweat doesn’t show in the movie proper). But the outtakes this time also show Chris Tucker, Chan’s onscreen partner, who has nothing especially challenging to do except remember how to say “Chelsea Clinton.”
Rush Hour — the title has no particular relevance to the plot — is New Line’s rather disheartening attempt to help out Jackie Chan in America, probably the only country in the world where this international legend has been a two-hit wonder (Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop). His last few movies have opened and closed here pretty abruptly, so Chris Tucker — an unaccountably popular “comedian” whose previous star vehicle, Money Talks, was successful — has been brought in to revive Chan’s American career, one assumes. How sad that the great Chan is presumed to need this kind of dumbed-down buddy movie.
The “plot” is familiar from about a million bad movies. A Chinese consul’s little daughter is kidnapped. Chan, a detective, is sent from China to L.A. to work on the case. But the FBI takes over and assigns Tucker, an L.A. cop, to make sure Chan doesn’t get involved. This needlessly complicated premise, which doesn’t make sense anyway, should have been dropped. This is a cop-buddy movie in the tradition of 48 HRS and Lethal Weapon, and no amount of variation will change that — especially since Chan and Tucker end up working together as if they were officially on the case.
The comparison to 48 HRS has a strange twist here. In 48 HRS, Nick Nolte’s racist cop developed a grudging admiration for Eddie Murphy’s convict; here, in a neat reversal, it’s Tucker who starts out racist. The gibes aren’t nearly as bad here as they were in Lethal Weapon 4, but I still felt offended for Chan, who has to listen to Tucker’s witless spouting off. (Tucker to Chan, outside a Chinese restaurant: “Just like home, huh? Stay out here. Maybe you’ll see someone you know.”) Of course, Tucker learns to respect Chan, especially when he gets a load of Chan’s moves.
Those moves, by the way, would’ve been better served by a director who knows how to film them. Brett Ratner, who also directed Money Talks, is no Stanley Tong — a lot of the action is shot too close in and ruined by quick cutting. Jackie Chan doesn’t need quick cutting — he’s quick enough. Chan’s physical genius manages to come through anyway, though the only bit of comic-brutal choreography that’s really allowed to build, develop, and point towards a pay-off is a late sequence in which Chan fends off several thugs while trying to save a variety of priceless Chinese antiques from falling over.
Chris Tucker has a handful of amusing moments, but mostly his appeal continues to elude me. His voice gets on my nerves, and generally he’s dead weight on his co-star and the movie. It’s a measure of Tucker’s zero charisma that when Chan or the criminally underused Elizabeth Peña show exasperation with him, you can relate more to them than you ever do to him. Chris Tucker may be able to open these low-ambition, mid-level New Line movies, but he’s a very one-note performer — he’s the black Pauly Shore. Yet Jackie Chan is stuck in a movie with him, presumably because Tucker will attract Americans and Chan no longer will. If this is what it takes to keep America interested in Chan, America doesn’t deserve him.