RUSH HOUR 2 directed by Brett Ratner, written by Jeff Nathanson, produced by Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Arthur Sarkissian and Jay Stern, with Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Zhang Ziyi, John Lone, Roselyn Sanchez, Alan King and Don Cheadle. 90 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (August 3). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 65. Rating: NNN
i walk into the swank, dim con-fines of the Four Seasons Hotel ready to give Chris Tucker hell.He earned, if that's the right word, 20 million American dollars to act in Rush Hour 2 (see review, page 65). His co-star, Jackie Chan, earned 15 million. Jackie Chan is 47 and one of the biggest stars in the world. He's spent 30 years reinventing screen comedy, and broken his nose three times doing it.
Chris Tucker is 28. He used to do stand-up.
I walk in figuring if Tucker had more grace, he would have insisted on equal wages for himself and Chan. He would have shown some respect.
But then he slides into the room looking all tired and vulnerable and slightly ridiculous. He's wearing a thin layer of makeup for the photographers. And a matchy-matchy white and baby-blue track set. I can't do it.
So as his friends and handlers hover at a distance like fruit flies, I take a softer tack.
After all, Tucker does wield a blazing, rapid-fire stream of improv. It's the verbal equivalent of a Prince guitar solo -- dazzling and prodigious, but pre-macho. He delivered that amphetamine whine to arresting effect in The Fifth Element, Money Talks and the first Rush Hour movie.
Not only was Rush Hour the highest-grossing picture ever without white stars, but it was also Chan's first Hollywood movie that didn't insult his talent.
So maybe Tucker deserves some respect.
He slouches down in the couch and describes how they work. "We both complement each other, we both rely on each other," he says. As he talks, he starts warming up to a routine.
"The fight scenes and the choreography, Jackie takes care of all of that. I just sit back and he teaches me all the moves. And then in dialogue and in English he relies on me. He'll say, "What's that word? What's tight mean? What do player-hating mean?' And I'll have to teach him those words.
"And he'll be, like, "OK, I understand. Hating on me, OK, yes, I feel that. I feel you.'"
This is Tucker's pattern -- begin in earnest, end on a laugh. I pull out one of the smartass questions from my abandoned list. "Is your mother proud of you?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah, my parents, they're real proud of me," he says. "And especially when I bought her that new house, she really was proud of me."
At my goading, he adds, "One more movie, one more $20-million movie, I'm gonna buy everybody's mama a house. It'll be a little hood house, but it'll be a house." The fruit flies crack up, and I have to join them.
Tucker's delivery crackles in person. Even at the end of a day like this, when he's pumping out low watts, he can still kill the room. But his ambition goes way past comedy.
"I wanna do dramas, I wanna do comedies, I wanna do stand-up comedy shows,"he says.
You can feel the line coming.
"I wanna take it to a whole other level."
He's well placed for it. He's already won good notices for his dramatic work in Dead Presidents. And with Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy both reduced to buffoon roles in children's movies, the coast is clear.
But he'll have to grow past Rush Hour.
The Rush Hour movies -- and there'll be at least one or two more -- are groundbreaking, but they won't age well. Their giggling titillation with all things Asian will look increasingly silly in years to come. And Tucker's character is a classic movie coon -- vain, fearful and easily distracted. He'll have to leave it behind to reach that whole other level, where, right now, Denzel works alone.
Tucker takes a cellphone call near the end of our interview. Normally, this is a sign of colossal star arrogance, but in this case it's touching. It's his father.
"Hey, Daddy.... Nuttin much, up here doing an interview in Toronto.... Yeah, what you doin? You just chillin'? Yeah, we had to come up here to Toronto to do this interview.... Uh huh, yeah, we not gon' be back until Wednesday. Wednesday we gon' be back. What you doin'? Riding around? I can hear you. Can you hear me? Can you hear me, Daddy?"