Ron Howard's Rush was initially touted as a big Oscar contender, but it stalled in the pits, getting few award nominations and only modestly successful at the box office. I was vaguely familiar with the story of Niki Lauda, the Austrian Formula One racer who was horribly burned in an auto accident, but returned to racing only six weeks later, but knew little of his rivalry with British racer Jim Hunt which makes up the story of Rush.
Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, reminding that he's more than just Thor) is a brash hunky playboy with a way with the ladies including Natalie Dormer and Olivia Wilde. (Acting is just breaking rocks, innit?) Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a rodentish, unfun taskmaster who alienates many with his brusque manner, but he knows his stuff; how to tune cars for maximum performance and then race them to victory. The early stage of the film traces the pair's rivalry as they work their way up from lower classes to the premiere F1 circuit.
Lauda wins the world championship in 1975, but in 1976 Hunt is nipping at his heels despite struggling with car troubles of his own. The fateful race is the German Grand Prix when heavy rain prompted Lauda to lobby for its cancellation since the track is already dangerous under optimal conditions. Hunt rallies the drivers to reject this call because he thinks Lauda is trying to shorten the season and protect his lead. The race goes on and there is a spectacular fiery crash. In case you suspect it's been juiced up for movie, take a look at this comparison with the real event:
Yikes! With 3rd degree burns over his face and severe lung damage due to the heat and toxic smoke, Lauda is lucky to survive, but as Hunt begins to rack up victories in his absence, he is driven (ha, pun) to get back behind the wheel as soon as possible which he does, leading up to the climatic final race, again in a pouring rain, with Lauda's point lead over Hunt not insurmountable. Rush could be suspected of tarting up that final race's results, but it's a historical fact.
Both leads are excellent though the script by Peter Morgan never truly gets us inside the drivers heads. They talk about the need for speed and their dedication/obsession with victory is visible, it's mostly surface. The women in their lives are also mostly surface as Wilde (as supermodel Suzie Miller, who'd go on to leave Hunt for Richard Burton!) and Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda's wife (who gets a great sequence when they meet and then have to flag down a ride when their car breaks down) are just kind of there. Ron Howard has never seemed right after his Oscar win for the extremely overrated A Beautiful Mind (I actually sold the DVD and I keep almost every crappy movie I've bought) and there's not a lot of spark here, but it manages to stay in its lane efficiently.
Finally, could there be a lamer, more generic title than Rush? It says nothing; means nothing; and there are probably 50 other movies with the word in their title beginning with that Jason Patric/Jennifer Jason Leigh movie that Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" originated. A better title? Race Through The Fire. It has flair and actually relates to the story. You're welcome.
Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.