Stop me if you’ve heard this story before, one’s a maverick cop who doesn’t play by the rules, the other’s a by the book straight-laced police officer, together they solve crimes.
It’s the basic formulae for every buddy cop movie of the last fifty years but, every now and again, it can lead to films that transcend the genre, films like Rush Hour.
Rush Hour is of course widely regarded by half of the two people who live in my flat as the funniest action movie ever made and I should know because I’ve seen over 240 films.
Allow me to recap the film’s plot in case, for some reason, you’ve not seen this staggering piece of filmmaking.
Following the kidnapping of a Chinese diplomat’s daughter, the brash Detective James Carter of the LAPD (Chris Tucker) is tasked by the FBI with babysitting Hong Kong Detective Inspector Yang Naing Lee (Jackie Chan).
Like Riggs and Murtaugh before them, Carter and Lee don’t get on at first but their shared passion for busting bad guys see them overcome their differences and work together to solve the case.
Using Jackie Chan’s signature mix of physical comedy and martial arts and blending it with Chris Tucker’s zany over the top acting, Rush Hour’s director managed to whip up the perfect action comedy smoothie.
Audiences flocked to watch it and Rush Hour was a huge commercial success bringing in $245 million at the worldwide box-office which lead to it eventually getting two sequels and a short-lived TV series.
Unfortunately, critics didn’t necessarily feel the same way giving Rush Hour middling reviews and yet the film’s become a cult classic over the years, regularly entering into top 20 lists (It was a crowded decade) for best comedies of the Nineties.
So what is it about this film that makes it so spectacular? Well, what really makes Rush Hour work is the chemistry between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Both men are extremely funny separately with Chan doing his usual mash-up of martial art stunts gone wrong and Tucker’s mouth motoring so hard it’s at risk of springing an oil leak.
However, Rush Hour is at its strongest when its leads play off each other. Chan’s is, of course, the competent straight man who can’t resist getting into arguments with Carter, who’s an ignorant boor who believes himself more worldly than his new partner.
It comes as no surprise that a lot of the best jokes and dialogue were improvised by Chan and Tucker who clearly understood what the film was going for, giving Lee and Carter’s relationship just the right amount of friction and friendship.
The two men and their performances are what elevates what could have been a by the numbers buddy cop movie to a widely beloved cult classic.
Just look at what happened when they tried to adapt the film for television and recast Tucker and Chan. The show lasted one series and was widely regarded as being the most ‘fine’ thing since they started making socks in the colour white.
Critics at the time all agreed that Tucker and Chan’s relationship was the strongest thing about the film and director Brett Ratner allegedly admitted in an interview (That I can’t find) that he considered the film a love story between the two.
Interestingly something I’ve always enjoyed about Rush Hour is that it was the first time I’d ever seen a bi-racial couple in a big western blockbuster.
Oh sure the pair aren’t in a sexual relationship but the way they bicker, despite clearly loving each other, has all the hallmarks of your typical comedy relationship.
It’s a strange symptom of the Hollywood system that in almost every genre including buddy cop movies people of colour are often, if not always, partnered up with a caucasian person.
Just think about some of the classic buddy cop movies and you’ll notice the pattern, Lethal Weapon has Riggs and Murtaugh, Die Hard has John McClane and Al Powell, 48 Hours has Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond, it goes on and on.
But Rush Hour’s different, neither of the two leads are white, nor indeed are they from the same continent and this allows the film to do something a bit different to the classic buddy cop nonsense.
Unfortunately, it does mean though that the film leans heavily on stereotyping which if I’m honest is a bit problematic twenty years later when you watch it as a woke Millennial.
However, there have been studies done on Rush Hour that show as much as it relies on stereotypes it also goes out of its way to break them.
According to Matt Lee in his study, The Manipulation and Role of Stereotypes in the Rush Hour Trilogy stereotypes are actully presented so they can be broken.
The Rush Hour trilogy is groundbreaking in many ways. Even though the three films contain more than one hundred stereotypes, they featured two heroes of a minority background, which is a unique instance in Hollywood films.
While most of the stereotypes were negative, the film did portray the minority duo in a positive light, as the two individuals were the heroes of the day.
He goes on to add that the film also presents new ‘stereotypes’ that will eventually form new roles for each ethnicity to identify with.
Anyway, hope that assuages any Millennial guilt you may get when you laugh at Chris Tucker shouting: ‘Do you understand the words that are coming out my mouth?’
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