If you think about it, it’s pretty unbelievable that it took this long for a network to adapt Rush Hour into a television series. The original film was a fun, successful action flick that contained many elements that easily translate to the small screen: a buddy cop comedy between two mismatched partners, easy humor, cool action sequences, a formula that is easily tweakable to become a mindless procedural, and a diverse cast. It’s a perfect fit for CBS, a network that loves easy procedurals and that desperately needs to add some color to its lineup. It’s just too bad the execution of the series is a little off.
The pilot episode does what most movie-to-television adaptation pilots do: It tries to reel in fans of the movie by borrowing enough aspects of the original that it almost feels like you’re watching an edited version of an R-rated movie on a broadcast network. By-the-book Detective Lee (Jon Foo) flies to Los Angeles from Hong Kong to investigate and avenge his sister’s “alleged death.” The LAPD pairs Lee up with fast-talking, joke-making, loose cannon Detective Carter (Justin Hires), who is effectively being downgraded to babysitting duty by Captain Lindsay Cole (Wendie Malick), who is sick of his nonsense. Would you believe me I told you that Detective Carter doesn’t play by the rules? What if I told you that, within 5 minutes of the pilot episode, Carter is hanging from a helicopter as “Uptown Funk” blares? That is the sort of series we’re getting here.
To be fair, Rush Hour isn’t exactly going for Emmy gold. Instead, its goal seems to be to infiltrate the CBS lineup undetected, to provide the network’s loyal viewers with yet another hour of Detectives Doing Things, and to do it so seamlessly that you’ll barely notice and won’t ever get around to changing the channel. The pilot plays out in a predictable fashion, with Carter and Lee immediately butting heads, mostly because Carter doesn’t know when to shut up and because Lee doesn’t approve of Carter’s loose interpretation of rules. There’s a culture clash between the two (if you ever forget that Lee is Chinese, don’t worry — someone on the show will remind you approximately every six minutes, most often by simply saying “Chinese guy” but, in one instance, “Asian Orlando Bloom”), an immediate conflict (Carter uses his gangbanging cousin as a secret informant; Lee wants to arrest him for criminal activity), and a continued emphasis on just how mismatched these two are. There are no surprising twists and turns in the pilot. Everything is so by-the-book (hey, like Lee!) that if I were to give an in-depth play-by-play of the hour, you couldn’t even claim it’s a spoiler.
Even the action sequences are utterly predictable: When Carter jumps off a plane, he lands in a pool; when Lee takes on a room full of criminals, you better believe the scene involves pool sticks, slow-motion, and the requisite nutshot. For a series that is supposed to emphasize the action, especially if it wants to link itself to the film franchise, Rush Hour doesn’t quite know how to depict it (Jon Turteltaub, of the perfect National Treasure movies, directs the pilot episode). The action is quick and poorly edited, failing to thrill and, worse of all, failing to utilize Jon Foo’s seriously legit skills. Based on the pilot, Rush Hour wants to strike a balance between comedy and action but doesn’t really hit on either.
By the time we learn that Carter, despite his flaws, has a heart of gold, or witness Lee as he tells his first lie to a superior, interest in the series is already waning. Granted, it feels a little unfair to judge this pilot so harshly since there really isn’t much tension they can build — we know that Carter and Lee are going to eventually realize they will be good partners, just as we know that there is no way Lee is going back to Hong Kong — so the introductory exposition feels even more trite than your average pilot. There doesn’t seem to be a hint of promise that Rush Hour is going to become a fantastic hour of can’t-miss television, but instead just hints that it will float around and be simply watchable. Which, honestly, is probably the most you could’ve hoped for.