Rush Hour is an interesting trilogy. When it premiered in September 1998, both Jackie Chan (Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie Chan’s First Strike) and Chris Tucker (Friday, Money Talks) had built up a successful resume with New Line Cinema. Rush Hour was the next step to take them from niche audience favorites and into something more mainstream. By that I mean two things: 1) it was a massive hit that grossed $141M domestically (the previous top earner in North America for either actor in a lead role was Money Talks at $40M) and b) it’s a movie that even played to Rabbis. I’m serious. The second time I saw Rush Hour, I was in a packed theater and I ended up seated next to my Rabbi (he liked it). It was the type of movie you could recommend to anyone.
Another reason the movie succeeds is because both actors can alternately play the wild card or the straight man, depending on what’s called for in the scene. This happens more in Rush Hour 2, but for all the motormouth calories Chris Tucker burns joking around, often the biggest dialogue-driven laughs come from Jackie Chan’s timing. Conversely, it’s great to see Chan do his thing in the action sequences, but there’s a little extra enjoyment I get when I see Chris Tucker clumsily fight his way out of trouble. Much credit for the original Rush Hour’s success should go to screenwriters Jim Kouf and Ross LaManna, because they give the movie a solid foundation. The case is treated with actual importance, so it feels like a story and not some bullshit Ride Along free-for-all. It surprised me in this most recent viewing how many scenes Rush Hour are not going for jokes, but instead dealing with interpersonal relationships and driving the story forward. It’s also enjoyable to look back at how solid of a supporting cast Rush Hour has, some of whom had not broken out yet (Tom Wilkinson, John Hawkes), some who were popular character actors at the time (Elizabeth Pena, Chris Penn, Phillip Baker Hall), and other familiar faces you’ve seen in dozens of movies but maybe couldn’t place by name (Tzi Ma, Ken Leung, Mark Rolston, Rex Linn, Clifton Powell, Barry Shabaka Henley). Rush Hour is a great nostalgic revisit. It reminds me of when New Line Cinema was the New Line Cinema I grew up loving.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and your movie is seen as a studio tentpole that needs to hit its marks instead of re-inventing the wheel. Rush Hour 2 picks up Chan and Tucker’s characters (Chief Inspector Lee and Detective Carter) immediately after the events of the first movie as they take a breather in Hong Kong. While there, they get wrapped up in a case that ties into Lee’s past. I still enjoy Rush Hour 2 (the first bamboo action sequence is great, it has the best villains of the series, Chan & Tucker are still having fun), but it’s where cracks in the foundation start to become visible. For every five good jokes or action beats, there’s an instance of Tucker’s Carter exhibiting ugly American abroad behavior where his ignorance is supposed to be charming, but it comes across as…well, ignorant. When the movie returns to the U.S. for its climax in Las Vegas, there’s a whole bit where Tucker (as a diversion for Chan) accosts a casino dealer (played by Saul Rubinek) for being racist. It’s a weird, uncomfortable sequence and an early indication of the vileness we’re in store for with Tucker’s character in Rush Hour 3. This leads me back to my headline: the Rush Hour trilogy is basically the rise and fall of Detective James Carter. Just like Detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith) in Bad Boys II, Carter goes from a play-by-his-own-rules rebel to a fascist where he and his friends are awesome and everyone else is there to be disposed of, sexually harassed or mocked. By the end of the third movie, Tucker could strut his way onto a Michael Bay set with ease. Of the duo, it’s mostly Chan who finds a way to make Rush Hour 2 still work.
Did anyone ever watch the TV series?