Rush feels like a time filler for Hollywood power players Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Working from an atypically cornball script from top shelf screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen), the pair offers up a slick but rote sports drama that rarely rises to the fiery level of the real-life personalities it portrays. Frankly, when the halfway point rolled around and I thought to myself, 'I’d rather be watching Days of Thunder again," I knew things were veering off course.
slick but rote
Howard’s film recounts the rivalry between two Formula One legends: British playboy James Hunt (a strapping Chris Hemsworth) and the brash, ambitious Austrian firebrand Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, representing the film’s best shot at Oscar glory). From their early days in the Formula Three trenches to their face off in the 1976 Tokyo Grand Prix, Rush depicts their antagonistic relationship mostly via quick scenes of smart-alec, alpha-male banter as they pass each other in the pit area.
It’s established early on that they don’t much like each other, but they never have a dramatically satisfying confrontation; in fact, Morgan’s script takes them on divergent paths and dilutes their conflict in the process. Neither of their individual stories offers much dramatic meat: Hunt is an egotist whose self-absorption costs him a marriage (to the sadly under-used Olivia Wilde); while Lauda finds love with Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) in a meet-cute scene in the Italian countryside that’s too pat to be real (surely?) and initiates conflict with sponsors, fellow drivers and race officials. Peripheral players are so thinly sketched or broadly played as to barely warrant mention. Which really only leaves the racing meets to generate tension and dramatic momentum. And they’re okay; there are lots of mid-range CGI enhancements (like one of the earlier Fast and Furious films – I can’t remember which one – the camera goes inside the pistons of the racing engines) and some good and not-so-good blue-screen work. Also, the overly stylised on-screen titles that inform time and place are just shy of the 'Hot Wheels’ toy racetrack font (think flaming capital letters).
If the film deserves any deeper consideration, it’s in the context of Ron Howard’s relevance as a contemporary director. In light of his last few efforts, what exactly is he saying with any of these films?" Fully conceding that Frost/Nixon is the exception that proves the rule, it’s been 12 years since A Beautiful Mind (wildly overrated); other than riffing on established genres, what worth do The Missing, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and The Dilemma really possess? None exude the energy or personality of his small but wonderfully entertaining films from the '80s (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood).
Howard and Grazer took this project to Eric Fellner’s Working Title UK operation to get it made; technically, it is Howard’s first independent production, though Working Title’s arrangement with Universal in the US means it will get all the Hollywood backing it’s shallow mainstream mentality warrants.