[This is a review of Rush Hour season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
In 1998 the action/comedy Rush Hour burst into theaters, a buddy cop film elevated by the humorous dialogue and outstanding stuntwork. With martial arts superstar Jackie Chan as Detective Lee and the loud mouthed comic Chris Tucker as Detective Carter, the film succeeded largely by the chemistry between the two actors. Now, eighteen years after the first film and nine years after the third, the concept has been rebooted for CBS as an action/drama television series, Rush Hour.
The series begins with the world building ‘Pilot’ directed by Jon Turteltaub and written by show creators and executive producers Bill Lawrence & Blake McCormick. The show is a change in pace for Lawrence, the man behind Scrubs, Cougar Town, Clone High, and Spin City but still hints at his trademark humor. The hour long episode doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from its counterpart, mirroring the film version with only a few small changes, right down to the menacing bad guy discernable only by his bleached blonde hair.
A Tough Comparison
This new iteration feature Justin Hires (21 Jump Street) as Detective Carter. After the transfer of highly valuable Terracotta statues is hijacked, leading to the death of numerous Chinese cops, Detective Lee (Jon Foo) travels from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. There he joins the LAPD to catch the bad guys and seek revenge for his sister, one of the cops presumed dead in the ambush. Carter is assigned to watch Lee as a sort of “babysitting duty” – punishment for his previous loose-cannon antics.
Foo and Hires are both serviceable in the roles, and without the film comparisons their casting may have been praised. As it stands, one of the major problems with the pilot is the the two leads are not Chan and Tucker. It is an impossible comparison, as both actors were already established stars by the time Rush Hour was released, and Chan is one of the biggest international movie stars and action heroes since Bruce Lee. However, saddled with having to recreate a two hour movie in 45 minutes, Foo and Hires feel like they are doing impressions of their predecessors, and it cuts into their natural charm and rhythm. Foo is especially strong in his role, handling the martial arts and stunt work with ease (though not holding a candle to Chan’s abilities); he even has his own brand of humor, but it gets a bit lost in the action and yelling.
When the original Rush Hour movie came out over a decade ago, it was still met with criticism for racial stereotyping – and what was more easily overlooked during the 1990s seems all the more glaring and inappropriate now. The TV show’s cast and creators have already spoken out against the backlash towards the return of the Rush Hour property, but if the show takes steps to rectify these problems it must come after the first episode – one which largely deals in both racial and gender stereotypes, with a bit of xenophobia thrown in just for fun.
While having a primetime CBS TV show lead by an African-American and an Asian actor is an improvement from the typical white guys in suits we are used to seeing, Rush Hour still falls flat when it explores the same tired character tropes we’ve seen trotted out again and again in the past. Hopefully the series will begin developing its two main players as real people – perhaps exploring the trust issues just touched on – rather than relying on stale one-liners the are based around race and language.
An Unlikely Partnership
There is a moment, close to the end of the Rush Hour premiere episode where Carter is trying to convince Chan to disobey a direct order and stay in America. He implores him to think of all the people the Chinese syndicate has killed, and reminds him that it’s not all about Chan: it’s about Carter, and his ticket back on the force. It’s a moment of impressive narcissism done without the slightest wink to to camera. Character development, yes, but not the most flattering. The evolution from antagonists to loyal partners is rushed (no pun intended) and their sudden loyalty doesn’t feel earned.
That being said, there are a few high points to the pilot. Foo and Hires do have chemistry, certainly enough to make a decent buddy cop show once they shed the pilot’s initial conceit and troubling racial overtones. Lawrence’s humor is there as well, hidden under chase and fight scenes, but still available to be mined and developed. Wendie Malick is strong as the beleaguered Captain Cole, and Carter’s ex-girlfriend (and partner) Didi (Aimee Garcia) had an easy rapport with both men.
All in all, the Rush Hour pilot is an underdeveloped episode that fails to properly establish itself as being a comedy and/or action thriller. Its potential is buried under racial stereotyping, but those challenges could be easily overcome by leaving the film influences behind and developing the show’s main charachters into rich, three dimensional people.
Rush Hour will return with ‘Two Days or the Number of Hours Within that Timeframe’ on April 7th, 2016 at 8pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: