Ron Howard's 'Rush' is over two straight hours of lionizing F1 drivers as though they were Gods who ride among us. That aspect is demeaning and insufferable. But the thing is, 'Rush' is a good enough movie on its merits that I pretty much enjoyed it. If you are one who enjoys racing, I can only imagine how you'll react. (Perhaps you should wear a bib for all the drooling.)
Daniel Bruhl ('Inglourious Basterds') is Niki Lauda, an Austrian child of influence who turned his back on his fortune for car racing. His philosophy (which works well with the Teutonic accent) is one of fanatical pragmatism. He races not out of passion, but because it is something he is good at - and he feels it is the essence of virtue to pursue excellence. He's cocky, but doesn't get his jollies out of bragging - he's cocky because he's good.
His mirror universe counterpart is British epicurean James Hunt, played by Thor. (Some people call him Chris Hemsworth.) Thor is so handsome he makes the ladies swoon with the hint of a smile. Also born to wealth, and lucky to have wealthy friends, Hunt races for glory. The press loves him, the public loves him and, most importantly, he loves himself. he puts himself in danger's way, but only because that's what it takes to win and live the lifestyle of a champion. Lauda works to try and minimize risk, but has made peace with the fact that his life's calling may one day cause him to get his face burned off.
Guess what. One day his face burns off. We're to blame his own ego, Hunt's goading and the whole stupid system because the Lauda/Hunt rivalry means big business and the show must go on!
Plays-by-the-rules Lauda suffers and struggles to get healthy, represented by a gross lung suction procedure played opposite the smug Hunt winning more and more trophies. The anguish of this rivalry inspires him to get back on the track and try to win.
'Rush' has more races than 'Braveheart' has battles and they are all announced by commentators as annoying as Fodesinbeed Annodue from 'The Phantom Menace.' Despite the numerous eye-rolls at the commentary, one can't deny that the sequences are marvelously shot and pasted together. Ron Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle certainly hold their own against John Frankenheimer and team's work in 1966's 'Grand Prix' (a film with a somewhat similar plot.) Similarly propulsive is Hans Zimmer's score - one of his most exciting in a while.
Between this and the occasional bon mot in Morgan's script it's just enough for you to take this movie seriously. But then you see the men festooned in ads for Marlboro and Parmalait, having just blurted out variants of their macho philosophy, framed as though we should all get out of our theater seats and genuflect.
Up until some shoehorned acts of redemption on both characters' part in the very final scenes, it's really hard to care about these two bozos. When Hunt's money gets yanked from him, and he pouts at the caged birds he and Olivia Wilde keep, it offended me that 'Rush' wanted me to feel sorry for him. Nevertheless, this is a compelling and, by and large, well made movie. Just know what you are getting into if you take the ride.
'Rush' opens in theaters on September 27.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.