Hell must have finally frozen over. After single-handedly destroying The Fifth Element with his high-pitched jabber-twitching, and crashing his first star-vehicle Money Talks into a large pile of manure, Chris Tucker has somehow made a bearable movie. No, better than that, a quite good movie. He's even... funny.
In culture-clash buddy adventure Rush Hour, Tucker keeps the screeching to a minimum, resists turning the volume up too high and has released most of the ants from his pants. It's as if he's finally brought himself into line and learnt how to channel his comic energy, rather than letting it zap audiences towards the exit signs. His Cop Who Ignores The Rules is hardly an original character, but Tucker enlivens the role with an array of well-timed, naturalistic quips and a smooth sense of improvisation, creating a genuinely likeable gobshite anti-hero.
But you have to look past Tucker's discovery of self-discipline to understand why Rush Hour has been so big Stateside (it's now passed the $100-million mark). More significantly, it's the Hollywood movie which has given Chan his first big American success. Chan has, at last, taken a nosedive into the US multiplex mainstream, and while his stunts and fight scenes are more subdued (the US has stricter on-set safety regulations than Hong Kong), he still knows how to turn every little punch-up into a superbly choreographed visual treat. His acting's ropey, but what's new? You don't watch Chan for statuette-beckoning histrionics. You watch Chan to see him kick heads in.
Chan and Tucker make a successful buddy pairing; not as good as Gibson and Glover in Lethal Weapon, but way better than Tango & Cash. While Tucker is all mouth and no trousers, Chan is all trousers and no mouth; while Tucker is cool and streetwise, Chan is clueless and confused; while Tucker is loud and obnoxious, Chan is calm and polite. All the buddy clichés are there, but there's no denying this partnership really works - there is some chemistry there, and they do deliver the required laughs.
But Rush Hour is by no means flawless. Director Brett Ratner (who also helmed Money Talks) serves up a mediocre, by-the-numbers plot, rounding it off with a seen-it-all-before climax. The support are lacklustre; Full Monty-geezer Tom Wilkinson creaks along as the Brit baddie and Lone Star's Elizabeth Peña plods around as the obligatory lady 'tec.
Still, we're spared the token romantic interest, and at 98 minutes, everything's wrapped up before the cinema seats suddenly become oh-so-conveniently uncomfortable. But it's only because of the Tucker/Chan pairing that this flawed, but harmless, film is a worthy addition to the buddy-movie genre.
The man who ruined The Fifth Element has made an enjoyable movie. His hyper-active verbal comedy blends with Jackie Chan's adrenalin-overdosing combat, and the resulting sparks of humour rescue an otherwise run-of-the-mill actioner.