Rush Hour (1998)

D: Brett Ratner
S: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker

Entertaining action comedy which successfully integrates Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan with the standard Hollywood buddy movie by pairing him with broadly physical, loudmouthed Chris Tucker (The Fifth Element). Plot has sinister Hong Kong villains setting up shop in Los Angeles, financing their operation with the kidnap of the daughter of the Chinese Consul. When he requests old friend Chan is brought in to investigate, the FBI conspire to keep him out of their hair by assigning troublesome and destructive LAPD detective Tucker to babysit him. Chan has other ideas however, and attempts to elude his chaperone and investigate on his own. Meanwhile Tucker also seeks to solve the case to spite his superiors. The two men eventually begin working together and cause plenty of enjoyable mayhem whilst learning more about each other in the usual manner.

The only original ingredient in this very familiar stew is, of course, Chan. Those familiar with his work over the past decades will find this not all that much of a surprise, but fans will never tire of seeing The Young Master (who is getting quite long in the tooth now, it must be said) plying his particular trade with all his slapstick-inspired martial arts skills. He is also a very likable performer apart from the big action moments, and makes a sympathetic lead despite the formulaic nature of the whole thing. Tucker is a good choice of counterpoint, playing an even more cartoonish version of the kind of character which made Eddie Murphy a star in the 1980s. His own skills as a physical comedian play well against Chan's, and the two give the film just the centre it needs to keep the audience grinning happily through the routine button pushing.

It begins as if it were Police Story 5, with Chan going about his business in Hong Kong complete with subtitles and lots of stunts. It then shifts to the U.S., where Tucker is introduced on similarly familiar generic lines doing a shifty deal with arms trader Chris Penn which goes comically wrong (Beverly Hills Cop anyone?). It takes a while before the two strands come together, but the relationship is nicely paced once it gets going, with Chan given plenty of opportunity to punch, kick, dive, jump and juggle his way through a variety of heavies (including The Full Monty's Tom Wilkinson) and Tucker laying on the punch lines and ethnic gags in fine, silly form. It all comes to a climax with gunfire and martial arts aplenty, and though it ultimately weighs heavily on the side of Hollywood, it should provide mild fun for Hong Kong cinema fans used to a more frenetic pace. Soundtrack aficionados will get a particular kick from Lalo Schifrin's score, which is often reminiscent of his work on the Bruce Lee Hollywood vehicle Enter the Dragon.

It has taken this long to provide Jackie Chan with a suitable vehicle to launch his American career. It has been nearly twenty years since The Cannonball Run, The Big Brawl and The Protector failed to achieve this aim. It is nice to see him settle comfortably into the formula here, but it is perhaps too little too late, and fans will still find the greatest pleasures in the older classics, fun though this film is. Rush Hour is certainly enjoyable, and you will most probably leave the theatre with a happy grin on your face (especially with the usual end of film bloopers running during the credits), but it seems more like a winding down than a warming up for Chan, which adds a melancholy edge to your feelings. Still, for harmless thrills and laughs, you can't go too far wrong with this one.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.