Rush Hour (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Considering his recent surge in American popularity, it was all-but-inevitable that Jackie Chan would eventually show up in a big-budget Hollywood action picture. (He hasn't been in one since he did the Cannonball Run films back in the early '80s.) That production is Rush Hour, a somewhat lackluster cop buddy movie that goes wrong in two big ways: (1) it fails to utilize Chan's full range of skills, relegating him to the role of a kickboxing action hero and virtually ignoring his comedic aptitude, and (2) it saddles him with a partner, played by the irritating Chris Tucker.

In his Hong Kong features, Chan almost always delights (sometimes in spite of the plot) because he is given an opportunity to display his versatility. His performances aren't just about action; they're as much about comic timing as they are about stunts and death-defying feats. That's the reason why he is more often compared to Chaplin and Keaton than to Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, film maker Brett Ratner (who directed Tucker in Money Talks) doesn't seem to understand a large part of Chan's appeal. In Rush Hour, the actor is relegated to participating in various uninspired action sequences that could have just as easily been executed by Chuck Norris. Chan is rarely offered the opportunity to let his charisma shine through. 90% of the "comedy" is left to Tucker, who, when wound up, can be as aggravating as fingernails on a blackboard.

The storyline is as silly as one might expect for a movie that doesn't want its viewers thinking too much about plot or characterization. It's designed as a framework for the action sequences, all of which are in dire need of an adrenaline injection. Chan plays Lee, a Hong Kong police inspector who has been brought to America to aid in a kidnapping investigation. Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), the daughter of the Chinese consul in the United States and one of Lee's former charges, is taken hostage by a gangster, who is demanding a $50 million ransom to return her alive. The FBI, led by the usual band of incompetents, doesn't appreciate Lee's involvement, so they recruit James Carter (Tucker), a LAPD cop, to "babysit" him during his time in America. Soon, Lee and Carter, who don't really get along, are trying to solve the crime on their own. If it sounds like the Lethal Weapon formula, it is, but Rush Hour isn't close to being as entertaining.

Some people think Chris Tucker is funny, but I have yet to laugh at one of his out-of-control performances. He's too loud and abrasive, and he seems to think that acting weird and shouting are among the necessary attributes of a comedian. I feel the same way about Robin Williams and Jim Carrey - they're a lot more effective when they're under control. Unfortunately, in Rush Hour, Tucker is allowed to do pretty much what he wants, and he ends up interfering with Chan's few attempts at subtle humor. Tucker may be perfect for a loud, brash action film, but his presence her effectively undermines Chan's work.

There are times when Rush Hour shows potential, but these instances are more of a tease than anything else. On one occasion, Chan leaps into the air from a moving bus to grab an overhead road sign. After dangling in mid-air for a few seconds, he drops onto the top of a truck. There's also an amusing bit with Chan and Tucker strutting their stuff to the tune of "War." And, in the kidnapping victim, it's refreshing to see a little girl who has spunk but isn't a brat.

Everyone familiar with Chan's movies should be aware that he uses the end credits to show a variety of often bone-crunching outtakes. For Rush Hour, these are rather lame, showing more flubbed lines than stunts gone awry. That, more than anything, is indicative of how little Chan's potential is realized in this movie (not that we want to see him getting hurt, but he's given so little to do that he never really has the chance...). There's little doubt that Rush Hour is going to be a success at the box office, and, given audiences' love of sequels, Rush Hour 2 is probably already in the planning stages. Let's hope that next time around, the director uses his lead actor as something more than Tucker's straight man. On this occasion, as Chan moved from Hong Kong to Hollywood, something got lost in the translation.

Rush Hour (United States, 1998)

Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Elizabeth Peña, Tzi Ma, Julia Hsu, Philip Baker Hall
Screenplay: Jim Kouf, Ross LaManna
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Music: Lalo Schifrin
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 1998-09-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1