Rush Hour is a perfectly formulated piece of entertainment, a scientifically formulated movie built to assault our senses with action and comedy in an incredibly pleasing way.
Story wise, Rush Hour is a movie we’ve seen a million times, a million different ways – a mismatched pair of outsider cops are forced together on a case. It’s an evergreen premise that describes many movies across the spectrum from bad to great. Although the details of the case could be seen as inessential, a mere inciting incident to bring the two main characters of the film together, in Rush Hour, they’re given a little more care and effort; a little girl is kidnapped, but the little girl proves to have some backbone of her own, not just a mere prop to be tossed around.
We’ve seen Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) before – a fast-talking, abrasive black cop who thinks that he has the sexual charisma of Prince is nothing new. In fact, it’s no secret to point out that this character was directly inspired by Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley, from Beverly Hills Cop – Rush Hour’s director, the much maligned Brett Ratner, has said as much in interviews. However, to say that Chris Tucker is just doing an Eddie Murphy impression does him a bit of a disservice – to even get to 75% of the charisma and humor of peak Eddie Murphy is a pretty incredible achievement.
We’ve also seen Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) before, mostly because Jackie Chan himself has played the role of the competent, but slightly bumbling, action hero cop a million times in his career. Jackie Chan is an incredibly gifted actor; his gifts for stuntwork and action are only matched by his impeccable comic timing, and over his career, the person he has been most frequently compared to is Buster Keaton. Jackie Chan in Rush Hour is a comedic genius at the peak of his ability.
So, every major element that factors into Rush Hour is familiar – a familiar buddy-cop plot, a familiar Axel Foley type, and a familiar Jackie Chan role, and yet Rush Hour itself manages to be fresh and energetic. Rush Hour finds its success in the interplay of these familiar elements, the cultural clash that defines the movie, and it finds success by recognizing the immense talents of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan and letting the two of them have free reign to have fun. Some of the best moments of Rush Hour are the in-between moments; there’s an iconic moment when the two leads are staking out a Chinese restaurant, and Edwin Starr’s “War” comes on the radio; the ensuing sequence, in which the two lead characters dance and pick up pointers from each-other, is just a great cinematic moment.
There’s nothing original to Rush Hour, but in some ways, that’s part of what makes it so great. It’s comforting and familiar, yet seeing familiar characters combine in interesting ways is a recipe for success in this case.