Movies like “Amadeus” have pulled off loveable douchebag rivalries before, but there’s nothing loveable about the main characters in “Rush.” They’re all douches.
Review by David Feltman
“Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.”
Following the tradition of 70s era European race films like “Grand Prix” and “Le Mans,” Ron Howard’s ironically named “Rush” is ploddingly paced in spite of its high-octane subject matter. Based on the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda, “Rush” positions itself as an underdog story, but keeps swapping out its dog.
Daniel Bruhl plays the obsessed and calculating Lauda to Chris Hemsworth’s reckless and selfish Hunt. The film makes Hemsworth easy to hate at the beginning. His sneering playboy plays dirty, races in a jumpsuit that reads “Sex: The Breakfast of Champions,” and has his family buy his way into the big leagues. Meanwhile, Bruhl tirelessly toils and connives his way to the top. But the problem is that he’s not very likeable either. Bruhl plays the character as a whiny stick-in-the-mud, forever shaking his fist in Hemsworth’s shadow. Movies like “Amadeus” have pulled off loveable douchebag rivalries before, but there’s nothing loveable about the main characters in “Rush.” They’re all douches.
Howard pushes the audience to start rooting for Hemsworth as soon as Bruhl gets a little success with the ultimate goal of making both drivers sympathetic. However, he only succeeds in making them both even more unlikeable. To make matters worse, Howard is incapable of staging an exciting or even a competent race scene. He interrupts the action with quick cuts of spinning wheels and firing pistons that only deflate the suspense. The camera is inexplicably unable to follow the cars, letting them speed out of frame or behind dense foliage for several seconds. This robs the viewer of any sense of the field and what driver is where. Luckily the race scenes in this race film are kept scarce.
“Rush” also fails to establish any meaningful stakes. When Hemsworth’s family goes bankrupt and he loses his car in one scene, he instantly manages to beg his way back into the race a moment later. Romantic subplots are setup and quickly tossed out, giving the talented female leads (Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Lara) nothing to do but stand around and look concerned. And regardless of how many obstacles the two drivers overcome, their rivalry and inevitable friendship is inert because there is no personal growth. They’re both still jerks.
Hemsworth is a great leading man and a promising action star, but Howard squanders his talents on a flat and vapid character. If you’re in the mood for high speed action, you’d be better off staying home and watching “Bullitt,” “The French Connection” or even one of the “Fast and Furious” movies. At least those had some cool race and chase scenes.