In the feverishly-paced, interracial action comedy "Money Talks," hyper-kinetic comic Chris Tucker plays Franklin Hatchett, a two-bit, street-wise, ticket-scalping hustler pursued by a trigger-happy Belgian diamond smugglers, thuggish loan sharks, corrupt cops, and his own pregnant girlfriend. In his first starring role, Tucker clearly wants to imitate Eddie Murphy. Co-starring Charlie Sheen as a frustrated news reporter, a persuasive supporting cast, featuring Paul Sorvino and Heather Locklear, and crackling direction by Brett Ratner in his debut, "Money Talks" is nothing but rambunctious fun. The key to "Money Talks" is whether you find Chris Tucker either entertaining or obnoxious as a whiny-voiced dynamo whose motor-mouth never stops.
If you've seen the doper farce "Friday" or last summer's mega-budget science fiction saga "The Fifth Element," you'll recognize Tucker by his bulging cue-ball eyes, pouting bottom lip, and beetle brows. Acting like Buckwheat with a subversive attitude, Tucker's trademark is his helium-pitched, fast-paced delivery with profanity between every other word. He can rattle off a line of dialogue faster than a Federal Express commercial. When Tucker isn't dodging bullets and careening in cars in "Money Talks," he is jive-talking and wise-cracking with the kind of brazen effrontery that either makes you laugh harder or aggravates you to no end. The screenplay by "Toy Story" scribes Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow uses the classic theme of mistaken identity. Franklin is raking in some cool bucks as a scammer who fences stolen property at his car wash. Along comes scoop-hungry television news reporter James Russell (Charlie Sheen of "Platoon") who gets Hatchett arrested for soliciting goods.
The incredulous Hatchett winds up shackled to an unidentified Belgian crook. Nobody recognizes the infamous Raymond Villard (Gérard Ismaël of "Spécial Police"). During a routine bus transfer, Villard's henchmen blow up the vehicle and rescue their boss. Franklin survives by virtue of his being cuffed to the evil Villard. Aboard their escape helicopter, Franklin learns about a cache of $15 million in diamonds. Before the villains can kill him, our hero bails out of the chopper and splashes into the ocean. But Franklin is only leaping from one frying pan to another. It seems the L.A.P.D. has accused him of killing the fourteen prisoners and two police guards on the bus. Hatchett contacts Russell because he believes the news reporter might help him. Russell agrees to harbor the fugitive so he can get an exclusive as well as convince his British boss Barclay (David Warner of "Titanic") to re-hire him. Even that backfires when Russell finds himself implicated in Franklin's crime.
Although the Cohen and Sokolow screenplay adheres to a predictable formula, the story generates enough thrills and chills as well as a neatly planted surprise or two to pass muster. Basically, "Money Talks" amounts to a chase thriller with all the villains pursuing Franklin. They're prepared to kill Franklin as well as anybody else who gets in their way. Meanwhile, not only must Russell keep Franklin alive, he also must humor the wealthy parents of his bride-to-be Grace Cipriani ("Melrose Place's" Heather Locklear). Happily, the plot confines both Grace and her catty mom Connie (Veronica Cartwright of "Alien") to their mansion. A lesser script would have involved them in a kidnapping plot. Most of the time, the film focuses on Franklin's center camera efforts to negotiate with his various enemies and adversaries. Freshman helmer Ratner supercharges the action with such momentum that it rarely let up on it fast and furious pace. If the second to a winning comedy is maintaining a lively, timely, breakneck clip, Ratner succeeds in spades. "Money Talks" careens from one plot twist to the next with marvelous abandon. Ratner nimbly directs a genuinely exciting chase scene, an explosive assault-on-the-bus scene, and the gunslinging pyrotechnical finale at the Los Angeles Coliseum where everybody wields a weapon. When he isn't proving his talent helming these second-unit action scenes, Ratner has fun playing Tucker and Sheen off each other.
The solid, dependable, square-jawed Sheen makes a convincing straight man for Tucker. He is a news reporter with aspirations to join CBS-TV's "60 Minutes." Sheen's scenes with Tucker crackle with live-wire energy as the two spar with each other. The fierce, pugnacious camaraderie between these guys recalls the feisty relationship between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in "48 Hrs," and that's what makes Tucker and Sheen such an offbeat and hilarious pair. Wolfish Gérard Ismaël turns in an appropriately guttural performance that captures the hard-edged notoriety of the Belgian antagonist. The rest of the cast, including Sorvino as Russell's future father-in-law, Veronica Cartwright as the sneering wife, and Locklear as Russell's pretty bride acquit themselves well in peripheral roles. In minor roles, Paul Gleason of "Trading Places" stands out as a sympathetic but suspicious Lieutenant Bobby Pickett and Michael Wright as one of Franklin's schoolyard chums.
"Money Talks" compares favorably to the old buddy comedies of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder because it only wants to be a rollicking barrel of monkeys. If Chris Tucker can keep making agile comedies that click like "Money Talks," then Eddie Murphy has something to worry about.
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