[13 August 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
The last time we saw Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter and Chinese Chief Inspector Lee, in “Rush Hour 2,” they had dusted off another bunch of bad guys and were headed to New York City for a Knicks game.
Six years later, in the storyline and in real time, the comedic crime-fighters are back for “Rush Hour 3” (in theaters Friday). The movie opens with Chris Tucker’s Carter directing traffic in L.A. and Jackie Chan’s Lee in town with Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma from “Rush Hour”) for a meeting of the World Criminal Court.
An assassination attempt on the ambassador will soon have Carter and Lee in Paris, where they do battle with a deadly Chinese crime ring.
In the funniest “RH” yet, Tucker sings a lot and finally has a love scene, and martial-arts master Chan, at age 53, is still kicking villains into oblivion.
Nine years after the first “Rush Hour” hit theaters, fans already wonder if they can look forward to “RH 4.”
“Who knows?” said director Brett Ratner. “We could keep going: `Rush Hour 10,’ `Grumpy Old “Rush Hour.”` If the movie is a huge success and people are going in droves to the theater, the studio says, `We’re making another one.’ They’re writing the check.”
“We gotta do it fast if we’re gonna do it, because Jackie is gettin’ up there,” joked Tucker, who turns 35 later this month.
He and Ratner are in San Francisco for a couple of days, meeting the press in the St. Regis’ 3,400-square-foot Presidential Suite (rack rate: $8,500 a night). Even Tucker, a successful stand-up comic who became a multimillionaire off the “RH” franchise alone (the first two movies grossed $576 million worldwide), is impressed with the place.
“Man!” he said, looking around.
Ratner, 37, directed the three “Rush Hour” installments, all of which were written by Jeff Nathanson. (His rewrite of “Rush Hour” was uncredited.)
The history of the fertile franchise partnership between Ratner and Tucker began in the early 1990s, when Tucker was a regular on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” along with Mike Epps, Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Rock and other comedians who went on to make it big.
“I want to tell it. I’m gonna tell it,” said the wide-eyed Tucker, who is far more gregarious than Ratner.
He said rapper Heavy D hired him in 1994 to appear in the video “Nuttin’ but Love,” which was being directed by, of all people, a young man named Brett Ratner.
“I was thinkin’ it was gonna be some black director, and here was this white, Jewish guy,” Tucker said. “He looked like a playboy, sort of, and I’m like, `What’s wrong with this dude?’ I said to him, `I want you to get the funniest takes,’ and he said, `Don’t worry about it.’ “
Tucker made $1,500 for the video shoot but was still short his rent money, so he asked Ratner for an additional $500. Ratner promised to take it out of his own salary and send Tucker a check.
“He did a great job on the video, first of all, and then he sent me extra money,” said Tucker. “So, then it came to `Money Talks.’ I was executive producer on this movie, and the director we had on it, I sorta pushed him out the door because he didn’t understand improvisation.
“Brett was one of the guys who came in to do the movie, and I said, `I know you, man, from the video.’ And I knew he was best friends with (rap impresario and `Def Comedy Jam’ executive producer) Russell Simmons. He knew black people. I knew he knew where I came from.”
“Yeah,” echoed Ratner.
“So I said, `Hey, man, let’s do this movie.’”
“Uh-huh,” said Ratner.
“That’s how we met, and he sent me an extra $500.”
“And he didn’t forget me,” Ratner said. “That’s why he recommended me for `Money Talks.’ We were meant to meet.”
“Yeah, we were meant to meet,” Tucker said. “The thing about Brett here is that he’s got a lot of gifts, and he gets the best people to work with him. He’s got the best energy, and he’s talented in a lot of different areas, and he’s funny. He does get on your nerves. Nah, nah, he’s a great guy.”
As for Tucker, Ratner said, “He’s the best. Russell is my best friend, and I watched hundreds of auditions for `Def Comedy Jam,’ and I saw this guy actually at his audition, and when Heavy mentioned him (for the music video), I said, `Ohmygod, he was the funniest guy at `Comedy Jam.’
“If you watch that (music) video now, it’s still funny. He was so good in it. And I think Chris was impressed that I picked the right takes. I just kept shooting, shooting, and he kept discovering stuff. And after all those takes, and I picked the best, then he realized, `This guy kind of gets it.’ It was definitely a blessing, because we work great together,” Ratner said. “We come from a generation that grew up watching `Beverly Hills Cop’ and ...
“`48 Hours,’” Tucker offered.
“And Richard Pryor and all these guys,” Ratner said. “We have the same interests and love kung fu movies. I said to Chris, `Do you like Jackie Chan?’ and he said, `Of course I love Jackie Chan, are you kidding me? It’s like DeNiro and Scorsese are from the same background, and so when they do a gangster movie, it’s so real. When we do a buddy-cop movie, we grew up watching those movies, and we have good instincts. We know what works and what doesn’t.”
“It’s a partnership,” said Tucker.
“Two other people doing the same movie ...”
“It would not have been the same,” Tucker said, finishing Ratner’s sentence. “And if you don’t have a good director, who can bring the best out of you and have that sense of timing and humor, you won’t have a good movie.”
That brings the conversation around to how Chan became Tucker’s partner in crime-fighting.
As soon as Ratner learned how much Tucker liked Chan’s movies, he was on a plane to South Africa to meet the Chinese martial-arts movie star. Ratner had just wrapped “Money Talks” and had acquired the “Rush Hour” script. He was certain that the pairing of Chan and Tucker, cops from completely different cultures, would be one for the ages (and the sequels).
Chan, as it turned out, had never heard of the American comic or the director.
“I flew 23 hours from L.A.,” said Ratner. “He picked me up himself at the airport, drove me in his car and, ohmygod, I’m so excited, and he’s looking at me like, who is this guy?”
Tucker doubled over, laughing.
“I said, `Jackie, I watched all your (Asian) movies. I know that you can’t have a 20-minute fight sequence because American audiences will get bored, so we’ll take the best of those 20 minutes and put it into two minutes.’ And I told him, `I worked with this comedian named Chris Tucker, he’s a comedic genius. His verbal comedy, your physical comedy, it’s going to be brilliant. And I have a script called `Rush Hour,’ and it’s horrible, but I’m gonna hire this guy named Jeff Nathanson to fix it.’”
After Chan agreed to do the movie, Ratner introduced him to Tucker at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles.
“Let me tell that story,” Tucker said.
“All right, go ahead,” said Ratner.
“I knew of Jackie Chan through his movies,” Tucker said. He didn’t know who I was. We had a big meeting, and they told Jackie about me, and Jackie didn’t say anything the whole meeting, so I was kind of concerned.
“I said, `Brett, does he speak English, because he hasn’t said nuthin’ the whole meeting and I keep talking to him, and he’s not saying anything.’ So Brett said, `Don’t worry, he’ll learn English by the time we start filming.’ I said, `Brett, I can’t be funny with somebody who doesn’t speak English.’”
Ratner laughed. “I told him, `I’m playing with you. He speaks English. That’s just his culture.’”
Tucker continued with the story. “So I took that first meeting to the first `Rush Hour.’ That’s where I got the saying, `Do you understand the words that are comin’ out of my mouth?’”
“That was real,” Ratner said.
“That’s how I work,” Tucker said. “I take my real emotions and put them on film, instead of me just reading lines off of paper. That’s why I think `Rush Hour’ was so successful, because it was coming from a real place. Our relationship is still like that. Like, I will fly to Hong Kong and call Jackie and he won’t even know I’m coming, and he’ll say, `You’re in Hong Kong? I’ll take you out tonight. I come get you right now.’”
Ratner chuckled. “When Chris walked out of the room after that first meeting, Jackie said, `I like that Chris Tucker, but I don’t understand a word he’s saying.’ I said, `Don’t worry, Jackie.’ That’s when I knew they were going to be brilliant.”
“We still don’t understand each other,” Tucker said with a shrug.