released August 3rd, 2001
I know, I know. Every motherfucker on the internet is putting up their essays marking the 10th anniversary of Brett Ratner’s RUSH HOUR 2 today. As fascinating a topic as we all know it is, I believe there could be a small chance that one or two of you are probly getting toward the area where pretty soon there is almost really not gonna be that much more to say about RUSH HOUR 2. And I know that for many of us this is a day when we want to be among friends and loved ones, thinking about how much they mean to us, and how much RUSH HOUR 2 means to them. But please, friends – if you have the time, take a few minutes to read my take. It would mean alot to me, just like this movie means alot to each and every one of us as movie fans, as thinkers, as sons and daughters, as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, citizens, humans, spiritual beings.
Where were you the day RUSH HOUR 2 came out? If you said “in a theater watching RUSH HOUR 2” then we got the same answer. I’m not joking around anymore, that was all fine and dandy for the opening paragraph part, but after you click through to read the rest of the review there’s no fucking around anymore, now we’re into some serious business. So this is gonna make you lose respect for me if you have any, but RUSH HOUR 2 was honestly one of the movies I was most excited about in the summer of 2001. For real.
Although it’s kinda considered taboo among white people, it is a stone cold fact that I think Chris Tucker is hilarious. I know I’m definitely in the small club of people who like him in THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but it’s MONEY TALKS and of course FRIDAY that made me love him. I think his best jokes are sold with a natural acting talent, portraying a character that’s full of shit and trying to seriously convince you. So I also love him in his few roles that are more dramatic, one being DEAD PRESIDENTS and the other being his standout scene in the already all-time-great movie JACKIE BROWN.
I always think of the first RUSH HOUR as being a mediocre movie – Jackie Chan doing some stuff, but not as good as in his Hong Kong movies; Chris Tucker being funny, but not as funny as in an R-rated movie. And some corny “we’re from different ethnic groups so we don’t understand each other” jokes. But then the fucking thing comes on TV and I always find myself laughing at the shit Tucker says. “Yo, MC Hammer’s dad, put the gun down.” “I love when a G-14 be comin around.” Only Chris Tucker would do a cop movie where after the climactic death of the villain he says, “Whoooo! You know he dead.” Christian Bale would not be able to say that line. It’s the opposite of the climax of THE FIFTH ELEMENT, when Tucker storms off saying, “Every 5 minutes there’s somethin’, a bomb or somethin’. I’m leavin’.”
RUSH HOUR was a big surprise hit in 1998, which somehow turned Tucker into a guy that’s supposed to get $20 million per movie. Then he did something unusual: he didn’t cash in. He left a few projects over creative differences (Martin Lawrence still owes him a thank-you card for giving up BLACK KNIGHT), developed a few personal ones that never got off the ground, flew around the world on humanitarian missions, and was not on screen again until RUSH HOUR 2. So I was highly anticipating it. I think I enjoyed it at the time but, again, not the greatest.
Watching it again ten years later I’m surprised to find that the Jackie Chan element of this one is stronger than the Chris Tucker. Of course it’s no DRUNKEN MASTER 2, but I think they did put more work into the action than in the first one. But the comedy doesn’t hold up as well.
The best thing in the movie is Zhang Ziyi, cute little Jen from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Here she’s cold-hearted bomber and asskicker Hu Li. Like CROUCHING TIGER co-star Michelle Yeoh her background is as a dancer, not as a martial artist, but she’s great with the choreography and they take advantage of her ballet flexibility, giving her impossible high kicks. Because she’s a petite little girl Carter keeps talking shit and threatening her, but every time he does that she gives him another wallop. She even gets the drop on Chan when a long, impressive indoor chase leads him into the dead end of her foot to his face.
The plot this time is partly a reverse of part 1. Carter (Tucker) is on vacation in Hong Kong visiting Lee (Chan) when these bombings start and they get wrapped up in the investigation. It actually ties in with part 1’s throwaway backstory about Lee’s dad, the cop killed in the line of duty. Now we know his partner Ricky Tan (John Lone) might’ve been involved in dad’s death as well as these bombings. Then there’s a hot secret service agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and some other stuff. I forget. Like in THE PROTECTOR, Jackie brings his buddy to a massage parlor or bathhouse or brothel type place where it turns into a brawl. They always get pampered by a bunch of women and then get their ass kicked.
Obviously Carter’s gonna have some cultural misunderstandings and what not. But some of it’s pretty funny. Wandering Hong Kong alone trying to find the massage parlor where he left his wallet he ends up wearing an outfit worthy of Steven Seagal and accidentally buying a live chicken. So he just carries it around with him for a while. I forget if they said what happened to the chicken. Maybe there should’ve been a spinoff about the chicken having to team up with a pitbull or something, and they bicker and then work together and learn from each other. “Never touch a pitbull’s water dish,” that kinda stuff.
There’s a big fight in a casino (The Red Dragon Casino, because the Money Talks Casino or the Nicolas Cage in Family Man Casino would’ve sounded weird) and one in a bath house, and one on a yacht, and they pretend like Carter kind of knows kung fu now, or knows how to fake it a little. There’s lots of Jackie Chan moves: money throwing, chair rolling, cabinet slamming, pay window jumping, tie grabbing, styrofoam box on feet water walking, bamboo climbing, pole dangling. It feels more like Jackie is free to do his thing than in the first one.
Some of Tucker’s comedy though seems a little more forced this time. He always works in Michael Jackson impressions in his movies, this time he does an entire karaoke performance of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and then later busts some Michael moves on top of a blackjack table to cause a distraction. There’s some really corny scripted jokes like a “who’s on first” type deal involving the word “you” and the name “Yoo.” Carter and Lee’s re-introduction is a terrible scene where they reference jokes from the first one but with the characters reversed. I can just picture the meeting where they first discussed that this is why it’s good to do a sequel, because this way we can change it so Jackie doesn’t want Chris to touch his radio. The tables have turned, the shoes have been switched to the other feet, the snake’s tail has bitten its head. People are gonna love this. It’s familiar, it’s new, it’s an old favorite, it’s a new twist, it’s what part 2 was born to do.
But when Tucker seems like he’s just making up random shit off the top of his head that’s when he’s funny. Like when he needs to cause a big scene in the casino and he mock-righteously announces to the crowd, “This 7 I’m about to roll is for the 27 years Mandela spent in that prison and couldn’t get no justice and took all that crap.”
Of course Chan’s jokes aren’t gonna be verbal, his main thing is mugging. But I got a good laugh during the scene where he thinks Carter is dead and sits in his car solemnly nodding along to that Biggie tribute “Missing You.”
Since the first one was so successful this one gets more of that “this is a big movie” feel where they force in some sort of distracting guest appearances. At one point Don Cheadle shows up as a Chinese-speaking Shaolin practicioner from Carter’s hood. That part’s okay but I’m not a fan of Jeremy Piven’s cameo as a gay stereotype clothes salesman that makes Carter mad by touching him too much.
Alot of people misuse the word “hack” to mean “terrible director,” and accuse Ratner of being that. I think he’s actually a perfect example of the correct definition of “hack”: a for-hire director who doesn’t seem to have a strong artistic vision of his own. He worked in music videos and commercials and still does, but got his start on MONEY TALKS when Tucker had the original director fired for not letting him improvise (honestly a good move and career-saver for Tucker). Later Ratner was a guy who could come in at the last minute and direct X-MEN 3 using Matthew Vaughn’s preparation and whatever the studio told him. A professional more than an artist. He’s like a hitman in a movie who says he follows some code, but then it never gets to the part where he feels bad and breaks the code to save a girl or something.
So Ratner’s a hack, but at the same time I think he deserves a tiny bit more credit than he generally gets. He does provide a small amount of artificial flavoring. For example he’s a life long fan of ENTER THE DRAGON so he had all his early movies (including this one) scored in a retro style by Lalo Schifrin. I figure if people still give Bryan Singer props just for re-using the old Superman theme and font they oughta give Ratner some credit for the great opening scene of RUSH HOUR 2. It’s a nicely put together little dialogue-free scene establishing Hong Kong and showing a disguised Zang Ziyi delivering a package to the American Consulate, then eerily telling some guy “Someone should call the police” as the building explodes behind her. With Schifrin’s music it seems like some lost ’70s US-Hong-Kong co-production classic.
I even think there are some themes in Ratner’s work, at least the ones with Tucker. While the music is retro, he’s attempting to update the racial makeup of the 48 HOURS or LETHAL WEAPON type of movie. But the RUSH HOUR series has a weird combination of diversity and racism. On one hand it’s a clever tweak of the buddy-cop-movie formula. Usually you got Mel Gibson/Nick Nolte and a black guy, or Dolph Lundgren/Jay Leno and an Asian guy. The white guy is either supposed to be the cool guy or the audience surrogate. They’re supposed to be movies about how white people can get along with other races, and the white character is supposed to be either who the white audience can relate to or who they can wish they were as cool as.
In MONEY TALKS, Ratner and Tucker messed with that formula by portraying the white guy as a completely hatable douche (Charlie Sheen), but the black guy was still a motor-mouthed petty criminal, basically an update of Eddie Murphy in 48 HOURS. I think it’s hilarious but it’s not worthy of any NAACP awards. For RUSH HOUR though they took the white guy out of the formula completely. In most American cop movies these guys would be the sidekicks. They’re also teamed with strong Latina cops (Elizabeth Pena in the first one, Roselyn Sanchez in this one) and pretty much all the white characters are bad guys or uptight authority figures who don’t get it.
So that’s a nice change of pace, but unlike the even more diverse FAST AND FURIOUS series these movies constantly call attention to racial and ethnic differences and stereotypes. It’s the main ingredient of the comedy, with obvious jokes about the two characters misunderstanding or learning about each other’s cultures. Tucker of course is a comedian who’s constantly riffing, so he falls back on alot of “black people are like this” and “I only know Asian people from kung fu movies” humor. Usually the character is supposed to be an ignorant ass, that’s the joke. But you still get sick of him thinking Chinese people eat sushi or run from Godzilla or referring to sex as “hide the rainbow roll” or that kind of shit. That stuff and the Piven scene aren’t as much offensive as they’re just lazy comedy, just like the dumb references to jokes from the first one that weren’t even the funny parts of the first movie anyway.
Ten years later I guess my feelings about RUSH HOUR 2 haven’t changed that much. It’s kind of embarrassing that it’s a huge record breaking hit, but also it’s not as bad as people claim it is. Don’t get mad at me for not saying IT SUCKS or IT RULES. These fence-sitting reviews are the hardest to write. But I’m being honest:
1) it’s not very good
2) I somewhat enjoy it.
I guess if anything this decade has given me more perspective on how bad Jackie’s American movies could be. Back then you could still complain that it wasn’t a pure Jackie Chan movie, now you can be relieved that it’s not THE TUXEDO or THE SPY NEXT DOOR. Or, sadly, RUSH HOUR 3. It seems pretty dignified in comparison.
* * *
datedness: all the references to Michael Jackson and the Nate Dogg song on the soundtrack take on different meaning since they both died in the last few years. But also the sort of worshipful view of MJ fits more with the prevailing attitude of 2011 than it did 2001, when in American pop culture Michael was usually only used as a punchline.
would they make a movie like this today? Yeah I guess so. Jackie might not be able to do as much at his age, and Tucker’s head would look slightly wider. Judging by RUSH HOUR 3 it wouldn’t be as good. But the RUSH HOURs don’t really follow movie trends of their time periods, they don’t got MORTAL KOMBAT music playing during the fight scenes or us bullet time anything, so they’re not necessarily stuck in 1998 and 2001. They could come out earlier or later.
legacy: RUSH HOUR 2 was a huge hit (at the time the highest grossing comedy ever), so they made a part 3, but it took 6 years to get made. That’s still the only movie Tucker has done in the ten years since part 2.
Some time around this movie Tucker and Ratner became actual friends with Michael Jackson. Tucker appeared in one of Jackson’s last videos, “You Rock My World,” and also testified on his behalf at his trial (Tucker had befriended the family that accused Jackson before he had, and said he warned MJ that they were using him for his money).
Chan did some more American vehicles, including THE TUXEDO and SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, but luckily he’s still made plenty of movies in his native Hong Kong.
Ratner started doing alot of producing after this (including the TV show Prison Break) but has also directed 4 features since then. One is a gratuitous remake and two are part-3s.
Writer Jeff Nathanson hooked up with Spielberg, writing CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, THE TERMINAL and a draft of KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.
I have not noticed RUSH HOUR 2 being particularly influential.
Important information: RUSH HOUR 2 has the same stunt coordinator (Conrad E. Palmisano) as MARKED FOR DEATH, OUT FOR JUSTICE and UNDER SIEGE.
Unfortunate information: according to Wikipedia, RUSH HOUR 2 is “second highest grossing martial arts film of all time, after KUNG FU PANDA.”
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.