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The current “everything goes” state of television is one that makes it impossible to be truly surprised when total garbage makes it on the air, especially now that film-to-TV remakes and continuations are so prevalent. Still, a TV fanatic must live with the hope that every new series is worth the time it took to get it made. Unfortunately, watching CBS’ watered-down take on the hit action-comedy Rush Hour makes us want to use four-letter words that sound nothing like “hope.” Like “blah,” but you can assume whatever you’d like.
If you’re familiar with the Rush Hour movies, then you know how this plot goes. In one corner, we have the Chinese Detective Lee (Jon Foo), who takes his rule-following personality and fisticuffs skills to Los Angeles in chasing a major criminal supposedly responsible for the death of Lee’s sister Kim (Jessika Van). In the other corner, we have LAPD Detective Carter (Justin Hires), whose risk-taking and loud-talking don’t make him a favorite employee of his higher-ups, including Wendie Malick’s Captain Cole. Lee is seeking suitable assistance in tracking the bad guy down, so he’s paired with Carter, and while it would have been nice if hilarity and white-knuckle action sequences ensued, that wasn’t really the case.
The core hook of the Rush Hour flicks was the contrast between the loud and brash spectacle of Chris Tucker and the reserved badassery of Jackie Chan, since not a lot of movies pair black comedians and Chinese martial artists as big-budget leads. But relying on that dynamic got old by the third movie, and without an extremely good story to put this duo in the middle of, the TV show was pre-destined to come across as an entertainment artifact. And that’s largely the case here in these early days.
There’s a “twist” midway through the first episode that sets up a cheesy moment near the end where Lee explains that since he has no more family in China, he might as well stick around in Los Angeles to find that criminal swine. But unless a whole world of interesting details are yet to be revealed about Lee and/or that other “twist” that happens, I’m not sure this set-up is anywhere near solid enough to tether together all of the cases-of-the-week that Lee and Carter will be taking on in the coming weeks, at least from an emotional angle.
But this is Rush Hour, so maybe the emotional response isn’t the point. It’s all about cracking wise and kicking ass, right? Well, those are two more areas where this show just plays things right down the middle. As performances go, Justin Hires has the perfect energy for his role, but his dialogue – full of vaguely stereotype-driven jokes and vocal disbelief that others don’t agree with his tactics – does no one any justice. (I did laugh at the inside-out rabbit line, though.) Foo, on the other hand, appears largely incapable of natural comedy and his situation isn’t really one that inspires chuckles anyway.
But Foo brings the legitimate martial artistry to the show, and he does excel there, even if the Rush Hour isn’t all that invested in making the fights and action scenes look amazing. (The pilot director, Jon Turteltaub, also directed 3 Ninjas, which I’ll just lay out there.) Foo is probably best known for playing Jin in the Tekken flick from a few years ago, and regardless of my feelings for this series’ plots or jokes, I’d maybe tune into Rush Hour on a weekly basis just to see what the actor is allowed to do in brawls and shootouts with bigger episodes budgets.
Perhaps the oddest thing about Rush Hour’s mediocrity is that the adaptation comes from some pretty big TV brains. There’s Blake McCormick, who has worked as a producer on Mad Men and True Detective, and Bill Lawrence, the comedic brain behind such shows as Scrubs, Clone High, Spin City and Cougar Town. Lawrence’s involvement explains why at least some of the jokes in Rush Hour work, but little else.
So while CBS had some success in turning Limitless into something that people watch every week (with some problems), it’s hard to say whether or not audiences will be on board with the low-hanging comedy and tepid plot of Rush Hour, though I’m interested to see if its popularity will be enough to get Chris Tucker or Jackie Chan to make a guest appearance in the future. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a drinking game that can’t be beat, take a shot every time someone makes a reference to Lee being Chinese. You won’t make it to the credits, but at least you will have had arguably more fun than if you’d been paying attention.
Rush Hour Season 1 will premiere on CBS on Thursday, March 31, at 10 p.m. ET.