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'Rush': Jackie Ow!

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 1998

  Movie Critic

Rush Hour
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan star in "Rush Hour." (New Line Cinema)

Brett Ratner
Jackie Chan;
Chris Tucker;
Tom Wilkinson;
Mark Rolston;
Tzi Ma;
Julia Hsu;
Elizabeth Pena
Running Time:
1 hour, 38 minutes
Mild violence
Chan is no longer missing.

Jackie Chan, that is, who is arguably the world's most popular movie star except in the United States. Somehow the angelic-faced gymnast with the fantastic moves and the guts of a Green Beret just hasn't connected with American audiences.

His lost career has been relocated in "Rush Hour," a buddy picture where he matches and meshes styles with stand-up comic Chris Tucker, a kind of poor man's Chris Rock. And the news, for Chanophiles, is good: "Rush Hour" is a sturdily entertaining vehicle, easily the little guy's best American-made film. It may get him where he deserves to be. Best of all it finds in Tucker a partner for him to play off, one who brings out his low-key charms and high-octane stunt work.

Chan is himself a miracle, one of the great cinematic moving targets. In his Asian films he won't use stuntmen, and has broken nearly every bone in his body. But he has that incredible ability to stay in character as he falls off a 40-foot building and breaks his ankle for the 19th time. He has moves that are so fast and subtle that they seem to deny several of Isaac Newton's more stridently defended policies. I have yet to figure out how he can seem to change direction in midair; it shouldn't be doable, not without computer morphing, but Chan is such an eel-clown of anti-gravity, he brings it off.

The movie here is routine enough, and no plot summary can do its body pyrotechnics true justice. Chan plays a Hong Kong inspector seconded to Los Angeles when the child of a prominent Chinese diplomat is kidnapped. The FBI, the inevitable organization of dreary white men in suits, seeks to cool him out in some backwater, so it dredges up the most incompetent detective on the LAPD to baby-sit him. This is Tucker, a phenomenon in his own right: He has no martial arts prowess but does have one of those manic plastic faces whose various orifices leak splats of noise even as he is improvising against the script. He's a special effect in the flesh whose minstrel show antics play to and against type, always to hilarious effect.

These two frequently stop the movie just to riff, and the riffs are usually great. Both are so fundamentally good-hearted you cannot but admire their rapport as the plot takes them into the silly mystery. Chan learns, for example, that the n-word, sportily used among some American blacks, is not so easily regarded when he himself essays its usage. As for Tucker, he's got a repertoire of improvised stylistics-in-motion; in one, he's just lit up a fleeing psycho's car loaded with explosives. In triumph he does a kind of snake-necked, bug-eyed moonwalk that looks like Michael Jackson after having watched too many "Amazing World of Reptiles" videos.

It does seem that Chan has put aside the death-defying stunts of his Asian career; his best exhibition here doesn't defy gravity or death but rather the retailer's sternest edict: You break it, you've bought it. In a fight set in the middle of an art exhibit, he whacks it out with a batch of miscreants while trying to keep an ancient vase from crashing. The timing and body control are stupendous as he scissor-kicks his opponents as the vase (larger than he is) is being propelled upward. He recovers in time to catch it, then has to launch it again to deal with more bad guys. Amazing. Not dangerous, but truly amazing.

Another treat in the movie is Julia Hsu, pint-size and adorable, who plays the kidnap victim. She's worthy of a remake of "The Ransom of Red Chief," and a real find. The movie's pure dessert, start to finish.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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