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After speeding through Rush Hour, Chris Tucker is on his way to becoming a $7 million man

IT'S FRIDAY AND CHRIS TUCKER AIN'T GOT SHIT TO DO. The 25-year-old comedian/actor has gone from Friday's pot-head, to a cross-dressing radio star of The Fifth Element to Charlie Sheen's partner in crime in Money Talks. He recently finished filming Rush Hour in which he co-stars with kung fu dynamo Jackie Chan. But for the moment, he ain't got no job, and today's his day off.

But don't expect to catch this Hollywood up-and-comer smokin' on the job. This funny guy takes his acting seriously. Money does talk, and now it's pay-off time for Tucker. Universal Pictures has signed Tucker to a $7 million deal to star in and produce the spy-spoof Double-O-Soul from a script he co-wrote. He plays opposite singer Mariah Carey in the comedy, but his lips are sealed on this otherwise top-secret project. C'mon, Chris, can't you give us any details?

"I can't tell you," he says. "I've got to hold back something."

What? Rush Hour's "biggest mouth in the West" doesn't want to deal the dirt? In a phone interview with Tucker from his Los Angeles home, his mouth didn't quite match up to his rep. Million-dollar ego? Hardly. He's just a southern gentleman at heart who's living the California dream.

California Dreamin'
"I was coming from high school and I had about four minutes of material when I went to the local comedy club in Atlanta," says Tucker, who started on the Atlanta comedy circuit at 19. "But they had a liquor license and I was under 21, so the manager told me I couldn't come in. I snuck in on a Tuesday, and performed and got a standing ovation. The manager came up to me and said, 'You can come back next week, but just don't drink.' I was just a regular comedian but I started off doing really well."

After a year of performing in Atlanta clubs every night, Tucker moved to Hollywood at the tender age of 20. Soon after his arrival, he landed gigs at the Comedy Store, The Fun Store and The Comedy Act Theater before making a television appearance on "Russell Simmon's Def Comedy Jam." In 1995, he made his film debut as Smokey in the cult-classic Friday. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"The one thing that's different between Chris and the other black comedians is that Chris can really pull off the dramatic moments in movies," says Brett Ratner, director of Money Talks and Rush Hour. "He has a natural talent as an actor. It's like the kid in class who has to take notes, goes home and studies his notes for six hours and then earns an A. Then there's the kid who doesn't have to take notes, he can just listen and earn the A. That's Chris. All Chris has to do is pay attention in class, he doesn't have to take notes, and he's great."

In September, Tucker teams up with Ratner again in the action flick Rush Hour. Tucker plays James Carter, a rogue LAPD detective assigned to keep a Hong Kong cop (Chan) away from the FBI investigation of the kidnapping of the Chinese consul's daughter.

Chan refuses to use anything but the real thing. Tucker, on the other hand, sheepishly admits to using a stunt double in some scenes. "But a lot of scenes, like jumping on the bus, I did myself," he quickly adds. "I just went ahead and did it because we didn't want it to look fake. I was in really good shape because I knew I would be working with Jackie Chan. I didn't want him outrunning me and stuff."

But what we really want to know: If Tucker and Chan got in a fight - who would kick who's ass?

"I'm going to kick Jackie's ass," Tucker says, laughing. "We got in a fight on the set and I had to hit him - I had to jack him up. A lot of people didn't want to talk about it, they didn't want to tell the press because they thought it would make us look bad. This is the scoop. I threw Jackie into some trash cans because Jackie said something to me in Chinese like I didn't know any Chinese, and I know a little Chinese, so I had to straighten him out." Uh-huh. Yeah, like anyone believes that one, Chris.

But really, Tucker's just playing - he's a big fan of Chan. "I've seen a lot of the stuff he did in his last movies and I couldn't understand how he could do it - there's a lot of tricks. Now I've seen it first hand so that was really exciting watching that."

The Next Generation
Tucker names vetran Richard Pryor as the funniest comedian in America. And this young gun's already drawing comparisons to his idol. So is Tucker on his way to becoming the Pryor of the '90s?

"I don't know. I better keep doing movies or I'll be like JJ [from "Good Times"] - people calling me JJ all my life. [Rush Hour] is my favorite project. I think I've grown a lot since Friday.

And judging from his performance in Rush Hour, we have to agree. Keeping pace with Jackie Chan, chasing bad guys through Chinatown, saving a little girl - all that seems a little more difficult than sitting on the porch with Ice Cube, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ms. Parker's rump.

By Jessica Lyons, Assistant Editor

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