Rush Hour has every reason to nosedive right after the title cards. Brett Ratner, the "mastermind" behind the franchise-halting X-Men 3: The Last Stand, brings together blustering comedian Chris Tucker and Hong Kong marvel Jackie Chan into a paint-by-the-numbers, stereotype-heavy buddy comedy that doesn't shy from using glib cultural zingers as its backbone. Elaborate fight choreography jumbles with a blatantly sassy take on Lethal Weapon, while Tucker's mile-a-minute verbal style lugs a kidnapping case through high-speed chases and explosions. Yet in Brett Ratner's hands, something unexpected happens; he exercises a level of control over Tucker's chaotic tongue, the bold action, and the raucous comedy, clicking together into a fun and steady-handed firecracker that wears its clichés gallantly on its sleeve.
Tucker plays LAPD detective James Carter, a wisecracking, reckless but sporadically effective officer who often creates more destruction during his investigations than actual case-solving. When he's asked to take on a mission for the FBI, an opportunity he's been hoping for his entire career, he jumps at the chance; what he doesn't know is that his "mission" entails keeping an eye on Lee (Jackie Chan), a special forces officer from China who's in the United States to help locate the kidnapped daughter of his old associate, Consul Han -- the real reason the FBI's involved. When Lee learns that the infamous "Juntao", a ring leader of a Chinese weapons-smuggling circuit, might be behind the kidnapping, he tries everything he can to break away from Carter to find the little girl. But, of course, Carter soon hops on-board with the hunt.
Rush Hour quickly focuses on the culture-clashed humor between Carter and the overseas "import" Lee -- just as soon as he gets off the plane from China, actually. Carter fits the typecast of an impish urban-dwelling cop, crankily yelling at Lee when he tries to change radio stations in his drool-worthy '72 Stingray and braying when he thinks his foreign counterpart doesn't speak English, while the battle-savvy Lee piddles with the "tourist" mentality in not knowing what to say or do in America. When the two defiant, partner-evading cops are thrown together, the banter they throw back-and-forth is anything but unpredictable; Lee gets Carter hooked on Chinese cuisine, Carter teaches Lee how to belt out Edwin Starr's "War" with soul, and a major multi-goon brawl breaks out over Lee's misuse of a certain urban slang I'll refrain from mentioning.
Here's the kicker: the formulaic bond between the head-butting cops telegraphs a few unexpected belly laughs, while maintaining a consistent stream of grin-inducing absurdity. It works because of the chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which would've made the film a very different experience if either one hadn't been involved. Tucker's flailing, high-pitched abandon as Carter -- though he's not much more than a combo of his characters from Friday and Money Talks trying to mirror Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop -- plays well off of Chan's stone-faced grins and fumbling of the English language, building a pair that charismatically trades jabs at their culture and policing abilities. Some quips tossed out are on the silly side, such as Lee getting called "Mr. Rice-a-Roni"; however, those are fewer in number than the cleverer situational plays, such as Carter using his inability to understand Lee's English as an excuse to do something dimwitted against warning.
Alongside the comedy, Rush Hour delivers bursts of explosiveness and hand-to-hand razzle-dazzle, balancing the jaunty tone against bombastic blasts and a few suspenseful chases. Jackie Chan's forte as a rough-and-tumble action star gives Rush Hour the added attention-grabbing oomph it needs to propel it forward, from his stunt work to his fist-flying panache. The impressiveness of the fight choreography and Chan's acrobatics might get lost in the humor of situations; for instance, there's a well-achieved scene where he effortlessly vaults off of a brick wall roughly double his height, and then quickly flips a surveillance camera away from seeing him. A few other scenes like this slip in -- such as the aformentioned brawl over a racial slang, which ignites in a cue-riddled pool hall -- and their physicality melts into the mirthful momentum fueling Ratner's picture.
Rush Hour's effectiveness relies on balance, making sure the scales don't tip too far over to action or comedy and assuring that Tucker's mouth doesn't overshadow Chan's allure as a physically-capable -- and rather humorous -- martial artist. And they don't; though Ratner's pedestrian direction rarely takes it above anything more than an easy-to-digest rush of laughs and excitement, it does concoct a fine cocktail of the two that remains a popcorn-munchin' bash from start to finish. There's not a lot here that one hasn't seen before, from the Riggs-Murtaugh framework and surprise double-crosses to the flamboyant slurry of bullets and explosions at the climax, but all the familiar elements play off each other in a fresh and satisfying way -- especially the use of ancient Chinese relics in the final scene, and Lee's hilarious efforts to keep them from breaking.
Video and Audio:
Rush Hour busts onto the Blu-ray format in a 1080p VC-1 encode that preserves the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of its theatrical screening, which fluidly captures Adam Greenberg's fast-moving and combat-riddled cinematography. Jackie Chan's hand-to-hand flare showcases the disc's capacity to preserve a wide range of motion, while the gradient of oranges and yellows in punchy explosions highlight a few instances of impressive color saturation and balance. The quality shifts between interior and exterior shots, though, as close-ups in the LAPD precinct and the Chinese restaurant show off clear detail and snappy textures, while some of the exterior shots are a bit hazier and less-detailed. Some smoothness/slight blurriness pops up in a few shots and the disc's compression shows off some blocking -- especially in high motion -- but they're not very frequent. All of the action film trappings look rather good for a film from the mid-to-late-'90s, which takes the quality to a healthy step above the previous standard-definition release.
The DTS HD Master Audio track also rumbles right along with the furiously-moving picture, though it's not as noteworthy as the visual presentation. Gunshots crisply pop off and Chris Tucker's pour of dialogue test the boundaries of the upper- and middle-range points, while a few punches hit the middle-low core with a few impressive beats. The most noteworthy element of the track comes in the crisp, pulsing hip-hop soundtrack, which never wavers in tackling both deep bass thumps and finely-balanced mid-range rhythms. However, one or two explosions don't hit as hard in the lower-frequency range, instead sounding a bit weaker and flatter than expected. A similar aged thinness can be heard at a few other points in the film, though it never affects the overall clarity of the film. It's a strong audio track, but not without a few hesitations. English and Spanish subtitles are available with the 7-channel track, as well as a Spanish language track.
Audio Commentary with Director Brett Ratner:
Yep, this is the same commentary recorded for the old New Line Platinum Edition DVD way back when, where Ratner starts off the track by stating that he's 28 years old and had a great experience working on his second feature film. He jokes about whether American audiences will recognize if Jackie Chan's speaking proper Mandarin or not, that he wants to involve himself with the best crew that he can find when making his films, and how he connected with Chris Penn for a supporting role -- as well as a few other secondary roles/actors. He discusses a long crane shot at the beginning of the film, how he derived inspiration from True Romance, the freeze-frame tech in VHS/Beta, not wanting to silly the film up with overuse of the theme from Enter the Dragon, and Jackie Chan's stature as an international star. He dips into the bones-'n-pieces of the contruction, but it's mostly a constant stream of expository enthusiasm about the stuff on-screen.
A Piece of the Action: Behind the Scenes (40:53, SD MPEG-2):
Though it's dubbed a "gallery" of featurettes on the back cover, they've all been strung together into one large making-of piece on this Blu-ray. Breet Ratner, producer Roger Birnbaum, Chris Tucker, and Jackie Chan all sit down for some backslap-worthy interviews that give very slight insights into the actual construction of the film. Some behind-the-scenes glimpses show Ratner directing the duo in several scenes, while also revealing Ratner's patience working with Chan's fumbling with the English language. The energy is fairly low in the interviews, but some of the off-stage footage can be worth the time -- as well as hearing Jackie Chan talk about Buster Keaton.
New Line have also brought over the Deleted Scenes (3:03, SD MPEG-2), two Music Videos (4:40, 4:29; SD MPEG-2) with commentaries with Ratner, Brett Ratner's short film "Whatever Happened to Mason Reese" (13:12, SD MPEG-2) with audio commentary, as well as an Isolated Score with Commentary by Composer Lalo Shifirin. Also, a pretty crummy Theatrical Trailer (2:29, Semi-HD VC-1) rounds out the supplemental experience. Essentially, everything pertinent that has been made available previous shows up on this Blu-ray disc.
If you're looking for a buddy cop popcorn flick that isn't titled Lethal Weapon, you can do a whole hell of a lot worse than Rush Hour. Brett Ratner's direction gives the beat-for-beat standard story enough energy to move along briskly and with enough explosiveness, but the chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan is what turns it into a rambunctious affair. The flare that they generate supersedes the unoriginality that creaks in its bones, coming together into one of Ratner's better, more enjoyable action films. New Line Home Entertainment have carried over the supplements from the previous Rush Hour DVD onto this Blu-ray disc, which sports a fine boost in audiovisual quality to merit a purchase for fans of this often humorous, zesty hybrid flick. Strongly Recommended.