Third ‘Hour’ starts clock

New Line signs Tucker, Chan, Ratner for new installment

After years of intricate negotiation New Line has finally gotten “Rush Hour 3” on the fast track.

Studio has at long last signed Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson to return for the sequel.

Tucker will earn $20 million against 20% of gross, and his deal comes with a second-picture commitment for the same salary on a film to be determined later. Thesp has given up script approval as long as the final draft matches what Nathanson pitched.

Chan will get around $15 million against 15% of gross, but he will also own the film’s distribution rights in China and Hong Kong.

Ratner will get a spike on the upfront part of the $5 million-against-5% gross deal he had on “Rush Hour 2.”

Nathanson, who scripted the last film, will be paid seven figures to write the third installment.

New Line has the option to greenlight the pic by May, based on script approval and a budget the studio hopes won’t exceed $120 million, which seems low by summer tentpole standards — especially given the generous above-the-line expenditure. That greenlight would trigger pay-or-play deals for the helmer and the two stars.

The film will begin shooting next summer in the U.S. and Paris and anchor the studio’s summer 2007 schedule.

Arthur Sarkissian will produce with Roger Birnbaum, Jon Glickman and Jay Stern, the latter of whom is Ratner’s Rat Entertainment partner.

With the exception of Chan’s distribution component, those deal terms are virtually the same ones that the studio offered earlier this year, when the film had been expected to begin production this fall for release next summer.

Nathanson pitched a take that pleased the principals, but the studio wouldn’t pay him until the stars and director signed over script approval. Tucker vacillated, and by the time he was ready to sign, Nathanson had been commandeered by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to rewrite his script for “Indiana Jones 4.” Ratner also looked for another picture, flirting with several projects and finally directing the second “X-Men” sequel, “X3,” which is due for release Memorial Day.

New Line production prexy Toby Emmerich bided his time and quietly put the film back together. Late last week, Tucker signed a deal that was negotiated by WMA and his attorney.

With a tentpole-sized action comedy budget, “Rush Hour 3” will count on a want-to-see that wasn’t evident in “The Legend of Zorro,” a film that’s grossed just $40 million in the U.S. and wasn’t helped by the long lapse since the 1998 release of the original hit.

Released in 2001, “Rush Hour 2” was a global smash that grossed $226 million domestically and $329 million worldwide.

The new film has something else going for it: a rare performance by Tucker, who seems to save himself for “Rush Hour” sequels.

He hasn’t made a movie since 2001’s “Rush Hour 2.” Tucker didn’t make one before that since the original 1998 “Rush Hour.” He got paid $2 million for that film, zoomed to $20 million for the sequel and might have retained that quote in a slew of other comedies he was offered. He turned down all of them and has preferred to do standup comedy and live the life of a Renaissance man.

He spoke up for his friend Michael Jackson during his recent legal troubles and has been seen taking up humanitarian causes with the likes of Bono and former president Bill Clinton. He’s also a favorite houseguest of Jordan’s King Abdullah.

He’ll finally get back to work next summer.