By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You would think that veteran mainstream director Ron Howard training his cameras and attention on Formula One racing competition would leave those of us with no interest in the sport itself absolutely cold.
Well, let me tell you: nothing could be closer to the truth.
I was just as disinterested and felt just as disenfranchised by the end of Rush as I was going in.
Which is curious because I recognize that Howard’s period racing drama boasts respectable technical production values.
“That and a dime…,” as they used to say.
Rush, a docudramatic racing thriller, is a chronicle of the real-life racing rivalry that developed in the 1970s between Britain’s James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth, and Austria’s Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl.
Hunt was a reckless, hedonistic playboy, Lauda a practical, grounded perfectionist.
The screenplay by keeping-it-real specialist Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) focuses on the 1976 season, when their life-and-death-staked rivalry intensified beyond all reason: no catastrophe (and one certainly occurred, and is depicted) could stop these two drivers from pursuing the world championship in Japan and playing out their adversarial obsession with each other.
Sounds interesting. And yet it never grabs and compels. Why not?
Well, for starters, although Hemsworth (from The Avengers and Thor) and Bruhl (from Inglourious Basterds and The Bourne Ultimatum) are at the very least serviceable, neither has sufficient screen presence or depth to yank us beneath the surface.
That is, while the main characters are larger than life, the lead actors are not.
And as far as the numerous extended racing segments go, the film never really gets us into the cars with the drivers. Oh, there’s speed and danger to spare. But adrenaline, it turns out, is in strangely short supply.
Not so the unnecessary, exposition-spouting voiceover narration by Bruhl, which there is far too much of.
Howard (Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Parenthood), whose directing career kicked off with the car-featuring Grand Theft Auto, made a terrific period boxing drama (Cinderella Man) that you didn’t need any interest in boxing to admire and enjoy.
No such luck with Rush despite the life-risking histrionics.
Competent action sequences notwithstanding, there’s a formulaic blandness, a connect-the-dots predictability that throws a blanket over all the melodramatic flourishes and leaves us wishing that we cared.
So we’ll race 2 stars out of 4 because Rush produced anything but.
Conclusion: Only diehard Formula One fans need rush in its direction.