Rush Hour (1998)

reviewed by
Brian Takeshita

A Film Review by Brian Takeshita
Rating:  **1/2 out of ****

Okay, let me first start off by saying that Jackie Chan is really a force to be reckoned with. I mean, he's funny, he's quick, he's an action superstar, and the guy legitimizes everything he does because he, unlike any American tough guy wannabe, does his own stunts. It's a wonder that he hadn't migrated from Hong Kong years ago and blew everybody else out of the Hollywood market. Since I figured Chan was the best thing RUSH HOUR brought to the table, I was very encouraged to see that the movie opened up with a showcase for Chan's physical talent. Here's the setup: Chan plays Detective Inspector Lee, one of Hong Kong's best special service cops. He single-handedly foils an operation to smuggle some of the greatest artistic and cultural Chinese treasures out of the city just before Hong Kong is handed over to China. However, the crime boss in charge, known only by the name of Juntao, is nowhere to be seen, and his right-hand man gets away.

As much as Lee is an asset to the Hong Kong Police, so is Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) a liability to the LAPD. So when the daughter of Chinese Consul Han (Tzi Ma) is kidnapped in Los Angeles by the relocated Juntao mob and held for ransom, Lee is called in from China by the Consul, while Carter is given the unprestigious job of keeping him out of the FBI's hair. When Lee convinces Carter of his earnestness in returning the little girl to safety, the two of them embark on their own investigation.

The tagline for RUSH HOUR is, "The Fastest Hands in the East Meet the Biggest Mouth in the West." Brother, you're not kidding. Chris Tucker really pushes the envelope when it comes to being an obnoxious loudmouth, but it's done in such an over-the-top way that it works. You get the sense that the character of Carter, for all his comical performance, doesn't for one moment doubt that he's "The Man," and it's that attitude of taking himself seriously and believing he's in total control that makes him so funny.

Chan, on the other hand, shines when he is out of his element. Although Lee initially exudes the persona of a calm, trained professional, he later reveals his innocence in many areas as he's led around by Carter. This coping with the unexpected is trademark Chan, who always seems like he's only just managing to keep his head above water, whether in dealing with other police officers, or when in a fight with one of the bad guys. It's that kind of desperation that makes you laugh at him, then it's that capacity to deal with the situation that makes you marvel at his ability.

Luckily, RUSH HOUR has a great asset in the interaction between Carter and Lee. This is particularly important because when you break it down, the film is a very conventional buddy movie, where the buddies come from very different sides of the tracks. There's the initial mistrust, the learning from each other, the revelation by each character that the other is an okay guy after all, and the climax where one saves the other's life, cementing the relationship. We've been there, done that, but in this case we're given something a little more unusual to spice up the old formula. The closest thing I can think of would be SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO with Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, but it didn't go for the comedy like RUSH HOUR does. Sure, some of the scenes are pretty corny, like when Carter attempts to teach Lee to dance, but they are a bunch of gems nevertheless.

You know, it would have been easy to stuff the film with songs like Carl Douglas's "Kung Fu Fighting," but in keeping with the "cops against organized crime" motif, director Brett Ratner instead chose to have Lalo Schifrin write the score. This is the same guy who composed the themes for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Mission: Impossible," "Starsky and Hutch," and the Dirty Harry movies. Once more utilizing a lot of hi-hat and scratch guitar, now how cool is that?

Okay, so you've got great talents playing two interesting characters, Jackie Chan action, good chemistry, and cool music. What's the downside? For one thing, the movie is severely predictable. If the main bad guy's identity remains a mystery for a good portion of the film, it's a good bet he's going to end up being someone everyone else thought was one of the good guys. If a criminal played by a decently famous actor is put away at the beginning of the movie, there's a good chance we'll see him again before the film is through. If the bad guy is climbing to any sufficient height and trying to make his getaway with a case of cash, oh you know the case will open up and the contents will fall like confetti.

Worst of all, however, is the fact that Ratner doesn't know how to effectively shoot Chan's action shots. Ratner uses quick cuts, close-ups, a moving camera, and different angles, which would normally be used to cover up the deficiencies in normal Hollywood action, but Chan is both such an artist and technician that the best way to shoot one of his sequences is to stand back and catch everything. He'll do it all right before your eyes. Instead, the conventional shooting makes Chan's movements less impressive, and it's too bad that Ratner undermines one of the biggest attractions of the movie in this way, unnecessarily bringing the film down a few notches.

Even with the aforementioned deficiencies, RUSH HOUR is the best Jackie Chan vehicle released for the mainstream American audience to date. As a bonus, they even include the out-takes over the end credits, just like in Chan's Hong Kong films. How can you not like that?

Review posted September 21, 1998

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