A common complaint thrown at the media in general is that they never seem to have any new ideas. Often this is whipped around in the comments section under various reboots. Comic books repeatedly get a brand new #1 since the rise of the speculator market in the late 80s. The X-Files got a miniature 10th season green-lit because nostalgia marketing trumps all. Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, and countless other Disney movies are all getting remade as live action, “serious” versions of their old form. Hell, I just talked about the fact they were working on a live-action Dumbo movie not that long ago.
But I’ve never been a supporter of the idea that there are “no new ideas”. New ideas happen all the time, people come up with something unexpected or unique almost every day. You may not always see it, and it may not always work, but those ideas exist. So when I hear someone say that the reason these things happen is because there’s some sort of creative deficit in the industry, I strongly disagree. Hell, I figure next week I’ll even talk about why these reboots and remakes happen and why it has very little to do with a lack of creativity. But then last night I saw something that made me stop and reconsider my position…
A Rush Hour Reboot?
For a long time there’s been a cross pollination between television and film. Many movies get a television show attached to it, some even exist within the same universe. In just the last couple of years we’ve seen the likes of Minority Report and Shadow Hunters pick up where film franchises left off. Meanwhile Agents of Shield, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Agent Carter are all inside the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In fact, it’s so common that a lot of people are discouraged that the Justice League movies aren’t tied into the “Arrow-verse” on the CW. Why recast roles that have already been specifically picked to make young women light headed enough to stop changing the channel?
But for a great many of those shows, the prime part of the entire idea is the world itself. Minority Report was about the kids who could see the future, so the show is as well. Shadow Hunters is about people dealing with a secret world of supernatural forces. The MCU related shows all do their best to flesh out the world in the margins of their blockbuster movies. But Rush Hour? What about Rush Hour exactly, was the selling point? The same old tired rehash of “The Odd Couple get guns”? Or was it the cast?
That’s right, Rush Hour didn’t have a glowing concept, it was sold almost entirely on the cast itself. Jackie Chan, a living legend who moves like lightning, puts a funny spin on everything, and proves you can survive just about anything with a positive attitude. This man has broken nearly every bone in his body and made us laugh about it despite the fact we love the hell out of him. He speaks multiple languages, plays an instrument, and does everything with an energy no one can match. And he’s partnered with Chris Tucker, the man who…
Well he’s Chris Tucker!
The point is that you have two people who are known for their dynamic energy and larger than life personas. They’re both incredibly funny people and, even as the straight man, Jackie put forward his best effort. Chris Tucker has no apparent off switch, the man’s entire career was built around the idea that he never shut up and that’s what the character itself was built around. So when you put the two of them together you get enough energy to successfully carry a tired cliche through three fucking movies and turn a profit at the same time. But the TV series?
If you watch the trailer I posted earlier you’re going to notice something – it’s doing a very toned down impression of the movies. In the role of Carter you’ve got Justin Hires there doing his damn best impression of a Chris Tucker after an elephant tranquilizer managed to cut his energy in half. Meanwhile, in the role of Lee, Jon Foo is standing over there saying almost nothing the entire time and coming off more like Bruce Lee as Kato than Jackie Chan as Detective Lee.
It’s easy to forget, as you watch Jackie Chan fly around like a ferret fueled by pixie sticks, that the man who just turned all the furniture in the room into a weapon wasn’t famous for his ability to kick ass. No, he was well known for that, even admired for it, but it wasn’t what gave him his claim to fame. For the longest time Jackie was seen by a lot of people inside and outside the industry as a watered down Bruce Lee. He was fast, but he was never going to be fast enough. He was strong, but never going to be strong enough. Through the early parts of his career Jackie was the guy who was going to live in the shadows of a giant. But then Jackie Chan discovered something he could do that Bruce couldn’t, this:
That’s what made Jackie famous, not his incredible physical skills but his incredible physical comedy. This is a man who has perfected looking desperate at every possible moment while fighting armed men with a step ladder. So when you’ve taken Rush Hour, which was very much a vehicle for bringing that style to the American audiences, you can’t really afford to make his character stiff and unyielding. Yes, Lee was the good cop of the pair, but that only lasted until the real fighting began and it became a frantic flailing mess of panic, props, and near misses. Jackie Chan fights are not “cool” or “slick”, Jackie Chan fights are organized chaos with the man in the center doing his best to look like he has no idea what he’s doing.
And that’s where the charm of Rush Hour comes from, not from the idea of a slick LA detective being hooked up with a hard nosed Hong Kong supercop. Rush Hour was popular as a franchise because it was a showcase for a man who talked so fast even those of us who speak English don’t necessarily follow him and another man who could theoretically kick your ass with an ottoman “accidentally”.
So that’s where my problem with the concept of the TV reboot comes in. I have nothing against the current cast, in fact from what I know of their work I think they probably have bright futures ahead of them. But the heart of Rush Hour isn’t in the tired concept, it’s in the energy of that very specific cast.
Frankly, Justin Hires is too normal to be a stand in for Chris Tucker. He’s going to try, no doubt, and he might even succeed, but he’s never quite going to hit that borderline nails on a chalkboard feeling that makes people sympathize with Lee. Maybe that’s going to even be an improvement, because then Carter becomes a more likable character. And as for Lee? Jon Foo’s work so far has been gradually building up and making him look better and better. But standing in for Jackie Chan comes with a single great problem. Jon Foo is just too cool to be Jackie Chan.
Unconvinced? I’d like you to note that there are a couple scenes in the trailer which are obvious references to the original. The “can you understand” conversation that probably sprung to you right away. But the bar fight also happened in the original movie and just watching that shows you the stark difference between what the movies were and what this show is going to be…
And, frankly, while I wish them the best… It’s just not the same.
(I write novels and have started to dabble in scripts. If you think this show is a great idea, you can feel free to tell me so on Twitter or in the comments. Otherwise, feel free to join me in a groan.)