Rush Hour

(1998) ** 1/2 Pg
98 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Brett Ratner. Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Elizabeth Peña, Rex Linn.

/content/films/3923/1.jpgMy all-time favorite DVD extra comes from the disc for 1998's buddy-cop action comedy Rush Hour. In the behind-the-scenes featurettes comes a fairly lengthy bit of on-set B-roll showing helmer Brett Ratner basically ceding direction to star Jackie Chan while crew members wait for the kung-fu star to design an action sequence on the spot. It's a great testament to Jackie Chan's talent, ingenuity, and knowledge of framing and editing: he can make something out of nothing, while Ratner's chief skills seem to be talking himself into a director's chair and hiring the right people. In spite of my disdain for Ratner and the flick's many annoyances and flaws, I have a soft spot for Rush Hour, the movie that finally brought Jackie Chan full-blown success in America.

Admittedly, that's not necessarily such a good thing. Chan has never made an American film as exciting as his Hong Kong ones. But Chan's American films have given him two important benefits: they have eased his transition, with age, into a safer, saner career, and they have afforded him relatively unlimited budgets to fire his imagination, as long as Western directors agree to play along. In 1980, Chan had made a bid for American stardom in Warner Brothers' widely panned The Big Brawl, followed by cameos in the Cannonball Run pictures, and another starring misfire in 1985's The Protector. It took over a decade to get Chan some heat in the States again, with the 1996 theatrical importation of HK flick Rumble in the Bronx. Before you could say 48 Hours (or Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon...), Chan found himself paired with Chris Tucker in a stupidly sure-fire vehicle.

Chan plays Detective Inspector Lee of the Hong Kong police, who travels to America when the daughter of Chinese Consul Solon Han (Tzi Ma of 24) gets kidnapped by ruthless criminal Sang (Ken Leung of Lost). Lee's guide to Southern California (and American culture) is LAPD Detective James Carter (Tucker), an obnoxious, racist motormouth with a record of destructiveness. Lee's a fish out of water, Lee and Carter are oil and water, and any other water cliché that comes to mind, but somehow they save the day. At least Ratner loads up on familiar faces in supporting roles (Tom Wilkinson, Philip Baker Hall, Chris Penn, and Elizabeth Peña) and hires Lalo Schifrin to deliver a cool action score.

The way to watch Rush Hour is to identify wholly with Lee/Chan, a highly competent and intelligent individual surrounded by American idiocy (Carter/Tucker and Ratner); let your mind drift from the "buddy" construct, and it becomes something like the reverse of The Pink Panther movies, with Dreyfuss now the protagonist and Clouseau the antagonist. This take on the story can only partly mitigate the film's "comedy" racism (like Tucker's threat to Sang, "I'm gonna kick your sweet and sour chicken ass"), but it does put it into a bearable context by acknowledging Carter's cultural ambassadorship as shameful and not merely gauche.

More than a saving grace, Chan is Rush Hour's King Midas: everything he touches turns to gold. Even struggling with the English language barrier, Chan makes Lee a believable and endearing hero. He's funny slow-burning in protest to Tucker's horrifying mouthiness and thrilling in the action sequences (which, though not prolific enough, include their fair share of the star's signature physical-comedy invention); because of his physical grace, Chan has always been an underrated actor, but he demonstrates both his dramatic and comedic chops here, if anyone cares to notice. The franchise slid precipitously into the unbearable by the time it reached Rush Hour 3, but the original remains a confection for which it's worth cheating on your diet of culturally healthy films.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 12/7/2010

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner gives Rush Hour its Blu-ray debut in a nice-priced release that retains all of the DVD extras from New Line's Platinum Edition DVD. Like a lot of catalog titles, Rush Hour doesn't rate a shiny new transfer, but this hi-def picture is strong enough to make the DVD look bad by comparison. Detail improves, and color becomes more vibrant. Usually, it's the interiors that look softer than the sunny exteriors, though the opposite is true here. Still, detail and texture are solid, making for an overall pleasing hi-def presentation. And there can be no arguing with the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix, which delivers high-octane sound effects, snappy music, and surprisingly razor-sharp dialogue always kept clearly above the fray.

The bonuses begin with a vintage audio commentary with director Brett Ratner. Ratner's fans will love this track, which enthusiastically covers a great deal of ground about casting, production, and his approach to various scenes.

"A Piece of the Action: Behind the Scenes" (40:53, SD) includes the aforementioned featurette that I so love. Interviewees include Ratner, producer Roger Birnbaum, Chris Tucker, and Jackie Chan, and there's a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage of cast and crew at work, particularly on the stunt sequences.

Also here are "Deleted Scenes" (3:03, SD); two Music Videos—"Dru Hill's 'How Deep Is Your Love?'" (4:40,SD) and "Heavy D & The Boyz's 'Nuttin' but Love'" (4:29, SD)—with commentaries with Ratner; Ratner's 1990 short film "Whatever Happened to Mason Reese" (13:12, SD), which also comes with audio commentary; the very welcome isolated score with commentary by composer Lalo Schifrin; and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:29, HD). Jackie Chan fans can proceed with confidence, voting with their dollars for more of Chan's New Line titles to make it to Blu-ray shelves.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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