There’s a truly gripping story at the core of “Rush.” It’s the story of how famed Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda was nearly killed in a horrific crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix that left him with a terribly burned face and damaged lungs. And yet only six weeks later he was back in the cockpit, competing — and winning — again to the amazement of his fellow drivers and the racing world at large.
Such courage. Such willpower. Such are the things that action movies are made of. Too bad the movie that Ron Howard has actually made out of this incredible true-life sequence of events is mostly a lot of noise and nonsense, a garish enterprise that almost — though not quite — trivializes the tale.
That tale is the story of the rivalry between two drivers: Lauda and James Hunt. Howard weights the picture so heavily in Hunt’s favor that Lauda is almost a subsidiary figure.
Played with an easygoing insouciance by Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”), Hunt, a Brit, is a long-haired party animal who has merely to cast his roving eye on any random passing beauty, and — boom! — into his bed (or his shower) that beauty hops.
By contrast, Lauda (played by Daniel Brhl), an Austrian, is a Teutonic caricature: a maximally arrogant, obsessively detail-oriented cold fish whose scorn for his hedonistic rival drips from every icy pore. Though the major focus is on Hemsworth’s Hunt, it’s Brhl whose performance dominates. He’s caustic and compelling compared to Hemsworth’s blond blandness.
They’re alpha and omega, these two, a mutual detestation society, calling each other names, flipping the bird, but at the same time exhibiting a grudging respect for each other’s driving skills. That’s a stark and simplistic dynamic, and Howard’s handling of it is disappointingly simpleminded.
As for the racing sequences: Oh dear. Those seem to have been edited with a Cuisinart. They’re chaotic assemblages of smoking tires, howling exhaust pipes, spinouts, crashes, low-angle shots, helicopter overheads, all coming at you so fast you have little sense of how the races are progressing.
Only Brhl’s standout performance prevents “Rush” from becoming a total wreck.
H H 1/2 I I
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay, Natalie Dormer
Director: Ron Howard
Running time: 2:03
Rated: R; sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use