New Line // 1998 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 20th, 2010
The fastest hands in the East meet the biggest mouth in the West.
One of the last good entries in the tired "mismatched buddy cops" genre sees its high-def debut. Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
The young daughter of a Chinese diplomat has been kidnapped, and it's up to Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan, Rumble in the Bronx) and his newly-assigned parter, fast-talking James Carter of the L.A.P.D. (Chris Tucker, Friday). Sure, there's a language barrier. Sure, they have different methods of getting the job done. But will these mismatched buddy cops figure out a way to work together and solve the case? And maybe just come to respect/like one another in the process? Have you ever seen a movie?
Call me crazy: I really like Rush Hour and its first sequel, Rush Hour 2 (the third film tested my patience once too many times). Perhaps it's my innate affinity for the buddy cop genre, or perhaps it's simply because the movie is a good example of how to take a formula and do it with energy and humor -- to do it, for lack of a better expression, very well. It gives Jackie Chan what is arguably his best American film role, not resigning him to just comic relief or stranding him in a lame, cuddly kids' movie (The Tuxedo, The Spy Next Door). It gives Chris Tucker what is pretty much his only role to date; though Friday broke him and he did some good supporting work in the late '90s (movies like Dead Presidents and Jackie Brown; the less said about The Fifth Element the better), his role as James Carter in the Rush Hour series is likely what he'll be remembered for, since he hasn't gone on to do much else.
I almost feel like I should apologize for liking Rush Hour as much as I do (if I subscribed to the notion of "guilty pleasures," this might be one; luckily, I don't really feel guilty for liking anything that I like). I recognize it's not great art, but it is a skillfully made entry in a genre that's tired and stale more often than not from a studio that really knew how to do genre movies at one point in time (looking back at Rush Hour, I really began to miss the New Line Cinema of the mid-'90s to the early 2000s, when their output was a combination of genre stuff and bold artistic visions like Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter and the early films of Paul Thomas Anderson; Lord of the Rings came along and changed all of that). The action comedy is a difficult thing to pull off, and Rush Hour really works. Sometimes, a genre movie that actually delivers is far more satisfying than prestige pictures or Oscar bait; it knows what the audience wants and gives exactly that. That's Rush Hour.
What's even worse (and I fully expect to get killed on this) is that I don't hate Brett Ratner -- as a filmmaker, anyway. As a person, I find him embarrassingly egotistical and overly confident in his own abilities. He is insufferable. But I've always found him to be a competent director of Hollywood product; his films are slick and professional. I'm speaking mostly of his first four or five movies; his career has stalled out in recent years, and he seems caught up in just turning out Rush Hour movies over and over. I would argue that the backlash behind X-Men: The Last Stand is what crippled him, but a) I don't really think he's to blame for that movie's failures and b) I don't think backlash bothers Brett Ratner one bit, because he's incapable of believing that he is less than awesome. I would call his movies "artless," but that would be suggesting that there is no art to what Ratner accomplishes. There is an art and a particular skill set to crafting well-made product. At the same time, I don't see any of the director in his films. They are slick but impersonal, and while I know for a fact that Ratner fancies himself an auteur of sorts, I simply cannot agree. Still, he does good work on Rush Hour, largely because he surrounds himself with a talented crew: Adam Greenberg's photography is polished and sleek (Ratner is very good at choosing D.P.s) and Lalo Schifrin's score makes Rush Hour feel more mature and respectable than it has any right to. Ratner is smart enough to hire professionals that will help mask any inadequacies he may have as a director. Is he a great filmmaker? Absolutely not. But I also don't think he deserves the reputation he has for being a total hack, either. He, of course, only makes it worse for himself by being a huge douche.
Rush Hour's high-def upgrade represents only a marginal upgrade; yes, the video and audio quality is better, but no new extra features have been included -- it's just New Line's original "Platinum Series" DVD from 1999 ported over to Blu-ray. The 2.40:1, VC-1 encoded image is an improvement over the standard definition release, but not a game-changer. Blacks are solid throughout and the image is free from visible flaws or debris, but it's a bit on the soft side overall. It also looks like some minor DNR has been applied here and there, but not egregiously so. It's a fine looking transfer that's certainly an upgrade, and while it's by no means reference quality, it's also the best Rush Hour has looked since its theatrical run in 1998. The 7.1 DTS-HD audio mix handles the dialogue just fine, but feels a bit flat when it comes to the action -- it reminded me of the old DVD sound mix rather than a lossless HD track with two extra channels added.
As mentioned, all of the bonus features on the Blu-ray have simply been carried over from the decade-old DVD release. There's a decent amount of them and the quality is high (New Line was one of the best in the game in the early days of DVD), but couldn't the studio have come up with just a few new extras to justify fans buying Rush Hour again? A retrospective with the cast? A Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan commentary? I know that one's a longshot, but I can dream, right? Instead, we get Brett Ratner's original 1999 commentary, which is incredibly energetic and informative. Ratner may be an egomaniacal douchebag, but his commentary on Rush Hour is excellent; he never holds back from congratulating himself on what works, but he's also pretty honest and forthcoming about the process of putting the movie together. Like I said, I'm not really a Brett Ratner hater (as a filmmaker, anyway; as a person, he's insufferable), and listening to the commentary tracks on some of his early movies is at least part of the reason why.
Also included is a sporadic commentary from composer Lalo Schifrin, intercut with the film's isolated musical score; a very good making-of featurette that runs over a half hour; a few deleted scenes that don't amount to much; a pair of music videos directed by Ratner (with optional commentary) and the film's theatrical trailer. Ratner's NYU student short film, "Whatever Happened to Mason Reese?," is also included with optional commentary. While it's got nothing to do with Rush Hour and is really just a vanity inclusion for the director, it's still an interesting look at the kind of work Ratner was doing in film school -- particularly since it helped him get his foot in the door and move on to the kind of big-budget Hollywood movies we all now hate him for making.
Sometimes I wish I was above stuff like Rush Hour, but then I remember that I'm a movie fan and not necessarily a "film" snob (though I certainly have the tendencies of both, lest one party believe I'm casting judgment on the other). Rush Hour delivers exactly what it should: it's funny, the action is energetic and entertaining and the two leads have fun chemistry together. It would be easy to dismiss a movie like this, but that would be denying that the movie really works, even 12 years later. It's unfortunate that the Blu-ray doesn't offer much reason for fans to upgrade outside of some improved A/V quality, but anyone who doesn't already own Rush Hour would be wise to start here, pick up the sequel (when it's eventually released) and take a pass on the third entry. Trust me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Music Videos