Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker cut loose -- and flip the script -- on the set of Rush Hour 2

By Jeff Jensen
Updated August 10, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

If a single word can summarize the craftsmanship that went into making Rush Hour 2, the megabucks sequel to 1998’s $250 million-grossing worldwide hit, it would have to be…massage. In fact, here in late February on the movie’s Las Vegas set, where Jackie Chan’s stunt double has been thrown through a second-floor window and landed between two craps tables, the practice of rubbing someone the right way is breaking out everywhere. Extras decked in tuxedos and evening gowns take turns working on each other’s backs. A gaffer kneads the neck of a female crew member, who in turn is kneading another man’s knuckles. And then there is what’s known here as a massage train: two men and two women, hands linked to stiff shoulders. The dude pulling up the caboose begins to croon: ”People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’…”

In the middle of this touchy-feely circus-circus prowls Rush Hour 2’s director, Brett Ratner, whose occasional procurement of massage therapists for the production has inspired these amateur outbreaks on days when the real pros aren’t around. ”The atmosphere on the set is very friendly,” says Ratner, after lending his magic fingers to one of the many curvaceous young hotties who keep popping up on the set looking to be conspicuously placed in a shot. ”I’m very friendly, and placed in a shot. ”I’m very friendly, and everyone else here is very friendly.”

A whirling dervish of rakish charm and almost adolescent energy — who when not barking out orders is on the phone negotiating repairs to his Ferrari, corresponding with his L.A. office via text messenger, or getting gambling tips from casino biggie Steve Wynn — Ratner serves as Rush Hour 2’s chief masseur in less literal ways, too. It’s his job to coax and mold the comedy and action improvised by the dynamic duo on which this largely made-up-as-they-went-along sequel (one that cost $90 million) depends: Asian action legend Chan and motormouth comic Chris Tucker. But for better or worse, Rush Hour 2 is in the hands of an auteur — albeit one with about as much pretension as a frat boy on spring break.

”My personality is in the movie,” says the 31-year-old Ratner. ”My humor, my personality. The directors I admire, like the Coen brothers or Scorsese, when you see their films, you see them. If you knew me better, you would say, ‘That’s Brett. That’s a Brett film.”’

Dr. Strangelove, meet Dr. Feelgood.

Months later, on a gloomy june afternoon, Jackie Chan is munching on chips and salsa at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills and recalling his reaction after seeing the first Rush Hour: ”S—. I don’t like it.”

You must understand, Chan, 47, had come to Hollywood on four previous occasions — all in the 1980s, and twice for Cannonball Run movies — and had not tasted Stateside success. Aside from the occasional Hong Kong export (like 1996’s Rumble in the Bronx), Chan had grown content with merely being the biggest star in Asia — until Brett Ratner came to him with a buddy comedy in 1998, offering to rewrite the script to suit the actor’s talents and taste. ”He said, ‘Jackie, I know what you want. No [gory] violence, no sex, everything clean. We’ll do it the same way,”’ says Chan. But once Rush Hour was in the can, Chan kicked himself. Too much talking. Not enough action. And Chris Tucker’s sense of humor didn’t exactly translate. ”’Never touch a black man’s radio,”’ Chan says. ”What is that? I don’t know.” Chan went back to Asia, once again vowing, Never again. ”And then, they released it,” he says. ”Boom! Big hit! I was shocked. But Brett said, ‘I told you to trust me.”’