By Alan Scherstuhl
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"What Brett does is work his crew to the point where everyone has pretty much hit the wall — where the actors, the grips, everyone is ready to call it a day," Nathanson says. "And that's when Brett is able to kick things into a whole other gear. Just when you think you're almost out the door, that's when he'll go for another two hours and, in almost every case, what he gets in those two hours is what ends up in the film. He just knows, intuitively, when he hasn't gotten that exact spark he needs. In comedy, it's so important to have that kind of patience, to see that something can be a little bit better, or in some cases a lot better."
"He has the energy of a dozen athletes," adds Rush Hour series producer Arthur Sarkissian. "The guy is unbelievable. He will not quit. He can be exhausted and not have slept, but on the set he's completely there. Nothing escapes his eyes. He sees every fucking thing."
Still, even Ratner can not roll back the clouds that have begun to obscure the afternoon sky. The cinematographer, J. Michael Muro, is worried about losing the light and has joined Ratner at the monitor, where Dudevoir repeatedly eyes his watch. One of the film's other producers, Andrew Z. Davis, urges Ratner to move on.
Finally, the pressure builds to a head, and Ratner snaps: "If Bob Shaye wants to come down here and direct Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan himself, let him do it!" he shouts.
Dudevoir cracks a smile — something that heretofore seemed impossible — and says that he actually thought Ratner was making pretty good time.
Such are the stressful, workaday realities of Hollywood filmmaking as you might observe them on any number of sets, but especially on those belonging to summer tentpole movies that have the fortunes of entire studios wrapped up in them. Budgeted at an estimated $120 million — roughly four times what the original film cost to make — Rush Hour 3, which will be released on August 10, is one of the biggest investments ever undertaken by the fiscally conservative New Line, save for another highly successful in-house franchise: Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. There, the cost was special effects. Here, the stars are the special effects — namely Tucker, who now receives a $20 million payday (officially, though some reports have pegged the figure as high as $25 million) plus 20 percent of the film's back end, and Chan, who gets $15 million, 15 percent of the gross and distribution rights to the film in key Asian territories. (As for Ratner, fret not; he's well taken care of too.) In addition, Rush Hour 3 stands as New Line's surest bet for a major hit after a long dry spell — more than two years during which none of the studio's movies have grossed more than $60 million at the domestic box office.
"We have three movies this year that are really important, that have to perform, which are Hairspray, Rush Hour 3 and The Golden Compass," says New Line president of production Toby Emmerich. "So, there's a lot of pressure on Rush Hour 3, though in a way, it's the one I feel the most comfortable about because it has a three in the title. At least a lot of people have seen and liked a Rush Hour movie."
Ultimately, the person most responsible for making sure people see and like Rush Hour 3 is the director whose seven feature films have generated more than $1 billion in global ticket sales, putting him in the elite company of Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, M. Night Shyamalan and a select few others who have reached that milestone before their 40th birthdays. The first two Rush Hours alone account for $600 million of that tally, while, in the six years since Rush Hour 2, Brett Ratner has directed popular entries in two other long-running franchises: Red Dragon (2002), the fourth film derived from Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels, and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), the third and highest-grossing in the series of Marvel Comics adaptations. Barely a decade after making his feature-film debut, he has navigated a remarkable ascension of the Hollywood power list, earning the respect of such moviemaking elder statesmen as Warren Beatty (with whom Ratner developed an unproduced remake of John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) and Roman Polanski (who gives a cameo performance in Rush Hour 3) in the process. Yet if Ratner is undeniably one of the few "name" directors of his generation, his remains a name more likely to be found in the gossip columns than the culture pages.
There, Ratner is routinely depicted as a poseur and a fool — a self-absorbed lothario more adept at staging parties in the basement disco of his Benedict Canyon mansion than he is at making movies. Like his contemporary, Michael Bay, he is anathema to cinephiles and other high-culture guardians. Critical reaction to Ratner's films usually runs the gamut from dismissive to contemptuous — so much so that, in his positive review of Red Dragon, Roger Ebert sounded almost apologetic for having liked the movie. ("To my surprise," he wrote of Ratner's direction, "he does a sure, stylish job.") At the L.A.-based gossip Web site Defamer, where Ratner can scarcely order a soft-serve yogurt without becoming headline news, he has been lumped together with the likes of Bay, Crash director Paul Haggis and rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie and branded a "fauxteur."
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