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July 14, 2023


Last year saw the resurgence of two very deserving actors’ careers: Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan. The “Fraser-sance” culminated in a Best Actor Oscar for Fraser’s harrowing performance in The Whale after starting his comeback with turns in the critically acclaimed (series) Trust, Condor, Doom Patrol, and (film) No Sudden Move. Meanwhile, the “Quan-naissance” resulted in a Best Supporting Actor win for Quan’s heartfelt role in 2022’s Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once. Both actors seem likely to continue their success with consistent work moving forward too, as Fraser will appear in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon later this year, while Quan has a reported role in Loki’s second season after appearing in the Disney+ show American Born Chinese. With all that in mind, their recent success got me thinking about other actors who deserve their flowers for what they’ve accomplished in the past and who should be rewarded with a renaissance of their own. My immediate thought was one of the most hilarious comedic actors of my childhood, Chris Tucker.

Although some people may have considered Tucker to be a bit too much, you can’t deny that he was one of the hottest comedians in film during the late 90s, with a clear audience who loved his work. In the span of four years (1995-1998), he appeared in six films, all of which were career milestones, whether it was a financial success (Rush Hour), a chance to lead his own film (Money Talks), or the opportunity to work with an acclaimed director (Quentin Tarantino in Jackie Brown). That six-film run not only demonstrated Tucker’s wide-ranging comedic ability, but also instances of dramatic competence. But more than that, he established his commanding screen presence no matter who he was acting alongside. Be it Ice Cube, Larenz Tate, Charlie Sheen, or Jackie Chan, it didn’t matter. Numerous actors benefitted from the chemistry Tucker’s charm and charisma generated in the 90s. Two small roles in The Meteor Man and House Party 3 notwithstanding, it was Friday that introduced us to Tucker’s witty quips and hysterical quotables, and his hilarious role as Smokey contributed to establishing the film as an all-time comedy great. The Fifth Element’s Ruby Rhod is another of Tucker’s iconic characters, and it proved that his screen-sharing prowess also applied to Hollywood’s elite, stealing scenes away from Bruce Willis before doing so again in his five minutes with Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown. Along with Brown, Dead Presidents showed that his distinctive, high-pitched voice can work in more serious roles. A voice that was most intricately exhibited in the highly underrated Money Talks. People discuss Rush Hour as the height of Tucker’s career, but it was the physical and musical comedy, improvisation, quick-line delivery, and action prowess that he carries throughout Money Talks that was the foundation for Rush Hour’s success.

The fact is that anytime he appeared in a film, his kinetic energy, great comedic timing, and ability to work with anyone on screen made him one of the funniest and most likable actors around the turn of the century. In only six years, he had already been in an all-time comedy classic, had major roles in three films that grossed over $245 million dollars worldwide each, created multiple iconic comedic characters, and starred alongside some of the most famous stars of the time. On top of all that, he carved his own lane to create multiple cult classic films. He accomplished more in that short timeframe than many actors do in their whole career. Recently, he became a trending topic on Twitter when his filmography was put up against that of Martin Lawrence. Black Twitter especially went at it, saying it was a very close match up with supporters on both sides of the argument, but the main argument of Tucker’s supporters was that the quality of his smaller filmography was still able to go toe-to-toe with the decades-long film resume of a comedy legend. 


The thing is, I agree with them. For some time now, I’ve had what some might call a pretty hot take when it comes to Tucker and his peak filmography. I believe that he has a better 90s resume than Will Smith. Now, before you hit me with a Soulja Boy or Nick Young meme, I am not including box office numbers because we all know why Smith was called “Mr. July” in the 90s. However, with a side-by-side comparison of their best 90s roles, I truly consider Tucker’s run a stronger one. Big Willie may have the best movie of the bunch (Enemy of the State), but Chris’s single scene in Jackie Brown is far superior to the entirety of Wild Wild West. In whatever way you decide to compare their six roles, I consider Tucker’s to be comparable or better. 

Tucker followed this high-flying 1990s by procuring a $20 million dollar payday ($40 million in today’s dollars) for his highest grossing movie to date, 2001’s Rush Hour 2. Sadly, that is the last time we’ve gotten to see Tucker really flex his comedic brilliance in an authentic way. Even though he was able to capitalize on the franchise’s success to bank a $25 million dollar deal for Rush Hour 3 in 2007, which made him the highest paid actor for a singular movie at that time, he felt that he’d reached an apex that wasn’t as fulfilling for him anymore, stating “The way I kind of stepped back from Hollywood… I felt like, you know, it was a ceiling right there. I wanted more – it wasn’t enough.” This was visible in his lackluster performance in that third outing, which came out five years after the second film. He wasn’t the quick-witted, sharp switchblade of comedy that fans were used to, and it ended up being his last comedic performance to date. Since then, he’s had two smaller roles in Silver Linings Playbook and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but has spent most of his public life working on his stand-up and various humanitarian causes to help children and unhoused people.

I’ve always wondered what would have been had he not taken that hiatus after Rush Hour 2. What version of Tucker would have appeared in Rush Hour 3 if they kept the momentum going sooner? What would his acting career have evolved into if he continued to passionately hone his skills? Between Friday and Rush Hour 2, he had grown past the stand-up comedian who can throw one-liners at the screen into something more well-rounded. Yes, he still hit the quips with high efficiency, but he could also sing, dance, do physical comedy, do action, and set up and pay off a clever, long-running bit (ask Black Twitter about Vic Damone Jr.). But most of all, he could carry a movie, and he was beginning to show some dramatic prowess. Could he have followed the trajectory of Jamie Foxx, another actor who transformed past the comedic perspective everyone had of him? If you didn’t know, Tucker was offered the role of Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday before Jamie Foxx took it. Subsequently, with roles in Ali, Collateral, and Ray, Foxx proved that he was more than just the funny man you saw in Held Up, Booty Call, and The Player’s Club. Maybe Tucker could have built a similar path for himself, or maybe he wouldn’t have been more than what we remember. It’s hard to say, but with the number of opportunities Tucker decided against taking, we will never know what kind of career he could have crafted over that 20-year span.

In addition to turning down Any Given Sunday, Tucker opted not to return to the Friday series, was connected to Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther remake, and was working on a ”first Black President role” similar to Chris Rock’s Head of State. Ultimately, Tucker felt that the roles he was being offered weren’t special enough to help him grow as an actor. "I knew I didn't want to just make a whole bunch of money making movies that don't really mean anything… Everything that you've seen that a Black person could be in, they offered it to me first, and I was like, 'Nope, nope, nope, and nope.'”

This year, however, sees Tucker’s first film appearance since 2016. His performance as Nike executive Howard White in Air reminded audiences that his mere presence can bring a smile to your face. Unlike the tired execution we see in the final Rush Hour, Tucker seemed rejuvenated being back on screen, easily navigating scenes alongside the powerhouse acting duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He proved he can still command your attention, making you question whether his lines were scripted or if he improvised everything on the spot. In fact, being a friend of Howard White in real life, Tucker ended up writing much of his own dialogue. “My part wasn’t even in the script. I had to write it. (Howard) had me talk to people – childhood buddies… I put all this information together and wrote my part. That’s the way I like to work, anyway. With the Rush Hour movies, I’ll use a little bit of what the writers do, but most of the time, I want to put it in my own words.” Tucker doesn’t plan on taking another acting hiatus after Air, and with these amazing talents, he is more than deserving of the chance to remind us what he was and prove how much more he can be. Put him in any role in any genre - comedy, sci-fi, drama, animated, whatever - and watch that film’s enjoyability increase tenfold. I’m ready for one of my favorite comedians to return to the big screen, and I think the world should join me in this renaissance campaign. Who’s with me?

Photo Credits: Photo 1 - GQ Magazine; Photo 2 - New Line Cinema; Photo 5 - Amazon Studios

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