Oddball chemistry propels 'Rush Hour' franchise

At 38, Brett Ratner has directed eight movies — five for New Line, with its Ratner-led “Rush Hour 3″ poised for an Aug. 10 release. So what makes the company so eager to work with Ratner?

“Simple — he has a special verve and a unique energy that makes him very suitable for films that need that drive,” says Bob Shaye, co-chairman and co-CEO of New Line. “He loves film, has a great sense of humor, and also has a very idiosyncratic charm which clearly works well with big stars.”

Sure, but a lot of people in this town love film.

“He really understands — in the most positive sense of the word — how to co-opt actors, production people and even his producers into doing things the way he wants them to be done, and that’s a gift,” continues Shaye. “I wouldn’t call him passive-aggressive, but he’s charming-aggressive and in certain circles that’s a very valuable talent.”

The action comedy reportedly cost $140 million, which led to some negative press.

“The budget for ‘Rush Hour 3′ didn’t get crazily out of control, but there were a number of issues that arose that caused the original budget to increase, and it’s several million higher than the greenlit budget,” Shaye admits. “For a start, we decided to shoot a good chunk of it in Paris rather than just fake it in Anaheim, and that’s very costly.

“And sometimes you run into reshoots and additions of special effects fixes that you just didn’t imagine needing when you did the original budget, but that’s not so unusual today, and I wouldn’t say it’s out of control commensurate with what we’re hoping the film delivers.”

Shaye says they wanted to “make a film that had all of the fun and all of the charm of the first two, but didn’t just go back to Las Vegas again, with the same tired old look.”

Shaye and Ratner loved the idea of letting Chan and Tucker loose in Paris.

“They’re these two fish out of water on the track of these Chinese Triad mobsters,” he says, “and again there’s that great rapport and schtick they do. ”

Shaye reports the company has only held two test screenings — “and both totally confirmed my feelings in terms of audience reaction, although you never know what the real world will think.”

Whatever the box office outcome, Shaye says he’ll continue to work with Ratner. “We’re old pals,” he adds. “He thinks of himself as my protege, and I think of myself as his dour older cousin. It’s a good relationship with a lot of love there.”

Ratner and Tucker also go back a long way — to a 1994 Heavy D video shoot.

“They paid me $500 to be in it, and I thought they should pay me more,” recalls Tucker. “So I asked Brett for another $500, and he said, ‘No problem,’ and I always remembered that. I thought that was really cool, and that helped him get the job for (directing) ‘Money Talks’ (in which Tucker starred ). He always had a lot of energy, and he knew my comedy style and the way I express myself.”

Chan admits that “Before the first ‘Rush Hour,’ I had lost confidence in making American movies.” Although a superstar in Asia, Hollywood was tough for Chan. “After working with Brett on ‘Rush Hour,’ my confidence returned. It was a hit. I thought, ‘OK, it was just luck.’ Then we did ‘Rush Hour 2.’ It was an even bigger hit. That’s when I thought, ‘OK, this isn’t just luck.’

“I knew it had a lot to do with Brett and I knew I wanted to do ‘Rush Hour 3′ with him. We wanted to make this sequel even better, and we knew that this would take time. But six years later? We were very picky about the scripts for one thing.

“But I finally said to Brett, ‘Hey we need to make this now, otherwise we’re all going to be too old!’ ”

Tucker has seen a lot of changes in Ratner over the years. “He’s definitely different. He’s gotten more knowledge as a director and has a lot of experience now,” he notes. “And he always surrounds himself with top people, which makes him better — and he can talk anyone into doing anything.”

Adds Chan, “I believe that in two years, if he continues to focus and avoid distractions, Brett will be one of the biggest directors in the world.

“He’s kind of like a teddy bear who makes me, as well as everyone else, smile.”

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