Rush Hour heads to the equally fast-paced landscape of television’s primetime. Can it beat the lights? Impact’s Far Eastern Editor Mike Leeder doesn’t feel the rush. Yet…
It’s hard to believe that we’re just two years short of the twentieth nnniversary of Brett Ratner’s first Rush Hour movie… which served as the first succesful American movie for Jackie Chan as (the poster proclaimed) ‘the fastest feet in the East” met “the fastest mouth in the west’ (in the form of Chris Tucker). The film was an enormous hit and over the next eight years there were two further Rush Hour adventures. Since then, there has been talk of a potential fourth cinematic chapter. But for now the rush is being felt on television screens with the debut of the new Rush Hour show.
A la the film, the series follows by-the-book Hong Kong Detective Lee (Jon Foo) who travels from Hong Kong to LA in search of a Chinese crime syndicate that he believes murdered his sister (Jessika Van). Arriving in LA, he’s reluctantly partnered with Detective Carter (Justin Hires) a fast talking Cop who doesn’t play by the rules.
Yep… that’s the plot, they basically recycle the original movie plot including several set-pieces and throw in a chunk of Sammo Hung’s Rush Hour inspired Martial Law series. Some current spin-off shows take their respective ideas in a new direction, but Rush Hour – judging from the pilot at least – has decided that riffing on the original movie is the way to go. I got to spend some time on the set of the original Rush Hour, (also doing some uncredited work on Rush Hour 2 and ended up handling the Asian Casting for Rush Hour 3) so I was looking forward to seeing where they took the franchise next.
Developed by Cougar Town’s Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick with original Rush Hour veterans Brett Ratner and Arthur Sarkissian serving as producers, the pilot immediately faces the problem of re-casting Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker’s characters. However, instead of changing a few ideas or giving the new actors the chance to bring something new to the roles, it looks like they were told to act-like, talk-like and kick-like their predecessors.
British martial arts actor Jon Foo (Tekken, Bangkok Dangerous) did make his Hong Kong movie debut in the Jackie Chan produced House of Fury, followed by a very short stint learning from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team on The Myth, but while he’s got a great physical set of skills (and we’ve always thought he had the potential for so much more) he doesn’t really jump off the screen – at least in the pilot. Physically, he seems to be held back from doing anything that spectacular in the pilot… he gets to do a few kicks (both ground-based and jumping) but nothing that really makes you go ‘Wow!‘. He’s artfully doubled for a few moves and the camerawork and editing doesn’t seem to be doing him much good. He’s also not got the charm of Chan, and there’s too many moments that really needed a more charismatic performer for the dialogue as well as the action. In fact, Foo should also get an award (along with Jessika Van who plays his sister) for some of the worst on-screen Cantonese since Harrison Ford’s mangled Mandarin in Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom. Even my Cantonese is better pronounced!
Comedian Justin Hires, who can be seen in everything from Stomp the Yard to the 21 Jump Street reboot, has just as much of an obstacle to overcome, stepping into the shoes of love-him/loathe-him Chris Tucker who was just as memorable for the fast talking Carter as Chan was with the physicality as Lee. He’s funny, but as with Foo in the pilot, both men are limited by being given the exact same moments to try and deliver and make their own.
Among the supporting cast we have the previously-mentioned Jessica Van as Lee’s sister (who has been given the character arc, it seems, as Kelly Hu’s character in the first few episodes of Martial Law. She’s a good girl gone bad, but is it an act, or is she beyond redemption? Aimee Garcia (from Dexter and the Robocop remake) plays the potential love interest and Carter’s only friendly face in the precinct, Detective Diaz. Wendie Mallick from Hot in Cleveland and Adventureland) also appears as the long suffering Captain Cole. The pilot also features Lost veteran Henry Ian Cusick, Leon Lee as the Ken Leung inspired (equally-blonde-haired Chinese villain) while George Cheung – and all manner of LA based Asian stunt performers – turn up too.
The pilot features fight and stunt choreography by action legend James Lew, who is currently working on the Luke Cage series, and while he certainly put together some nice action beats for the pilot, it looks like post production intrusion: cue quick cuts to strange angles, unnecessary speed ramps and Bourne Identity styled shakey-cam that detract from the majority of the action. Lew’s a hell of a martial artist and choreographer, and I really think this isn’t the way he wanted to present the action for this. The series opens with a pedestrian action sequence set on the Hong Kong docklands for Lee, while Carter gets a very nicely put together helicopter sequence, but along with the Pool Hall fight (yes, a la the original movie), and the finale in and amongst a few Terracotta statues (also from the original movie) just don’t really get to go anywhere new.
For the rest of the series the action was handled by Knock Off survivor Jeff Wolfe, who worked with Sammo Hung on Once Upon a Time in China and America, the Martial Law series, and was stunt coordinator for Revolution, so here’s hoping his action beats are given a better treatment.
Notably – and unfortunately – the humour hasn’t really been updated, and its been toned down somewhat so we have a very PG13 level of wisecracking from Hires character, while Foo is left to stand around looking lanky and serious for most of the show. There’s a moment or two when it clicks… such as when Lee and Carter are dealing with a snitch and the nearly final coda where the twosome sum up their experiences in the final fight, but it doesn’t go where it should be going.
On the strength of the pilot, I am disappointed, I was expecting more from all involved. However I do get the feeling that network politics and a lack of a very solid game-plan apart from “reboot Rush Hour” is a major issue affecting the pilot. At the moment I’d give it a 5 out of 10, and hope it improves. But this is based on the pilot, and we do have at least 13 episodes to look forward to… so we’re hoping that the leads and the series get to find their feet as the show progresses. Bluntly, I do think if this had been a pilot-order only, I don’t think we’d be getting a series commitment, but there’s enough potential to stick with it and see if it improves the way it combines its elements…