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By Rick Kisonak | October 2, 2013

Ron Howard does indeed possess a beautiful mind. Let us count the ways the world would be diminished without him: First, there never would’ve been an Opie (and what a barren patch the universe would be had there never been such a thing as an Opie). Or a Richie Cunningham. Artists have achieved immortality for leaving imprints on popular culture less indelible than just those two.

But he grew up and, rather than becoming a member of that most tedious of species-the former child actor with issues-he became a director of movies the world would be a less interesting place without. Cocoon. Apollo 13. Cinderella Man. Frost/Nixon. And, yes, A Beautiful Mind.

Had he made but a couple of those, Howard’s place in the pantheon would’ve been assured. Though his large-headed brother Clint definitely would’ve had a harder time making ends meet in Hollywood. Did that dude luck out or what?

Even operating on only half power, Howard’s produced work more watchable than most directors, nothing-to-sneeze-at entertainments like Night Shift, Parenthood, The Paper (which foreshadowed the current print journalism crisis) and The Missing.

Of course, even Orson Welles had off days. What was that beautiful mind thinking, I wonder, when he committed to projects like Gung Ho, Backdraft, EDtv (which foreshadowed the current reality craze but seriously blew anyway) and this one?

When you review movies on TV, you do what’s called a “stand up,” a quick on camera intro before cutting to the clips. A favorite I’ve used a hundred times over the past 30 years goes “X has directed some of the most memorable and masterfully crafted movies of our time. This isn’t one of them.”

That’s my intro to Rush, an overrated racing picture which literally goes nowhere fast. Scripted by Peter Morgan (The Queen), it offers the souped-up, Hollywoodized version of the real life rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) for the 1976 Formula One championship. Ironically, that’s the movie’s biggest problem: formula.

For the first time, Howard completely dispenses with character development. Hunt’s a handsome risk taker who loves women, booze and drugs. Lauda has an overbite which locks his face in a rodent-like sneer. He’s methodical and lacking in social skills. It’s the rock star vs the monk.

For two hours, they trade insults and drive fast. The races blur together. Cars whiz by. Classic rock tunes blare (none by Rush). There’s the occasional spin out. Breathless announcers keep us up to speed on who’s ahead as the months-long competition progresses.

The on-track action’s difficult to follow in places and the filmmakers prove stingy when it comes to doling out information on the workings of a sport about which they had to figure few in the audience would be expert. There’s some business about “wets,” a type of tire, for example. Hunt insists on using them because Lauda is. It’s apparently a point of honor but, just as the announcer’s about to provide clarification, he’s drowned out by “Gimme Some Lovin’” or one of the soundtrack’s other golden oldies.

Even if it hadn’t been based on a true story, Rush would rank among the most predictable sports movies ever made. Female members of the cast, including Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s neglected wife, take a back seat and the film’s final act stalls and sputters as the director shifts clumsily into sentimental gear. Somebody should’ve waved a bromance warning flag.

For the life of me, I can’t fathom the 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating for this drag of a race drama. In all the years I’ve spent watching Howard’s work, I can’t recall being half as happy to reach the finish line.

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