Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie review: 'Rush' Runs on Empty

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl portray dueling F1 racers John Hunt and Niki Lauda in 'Rush'. (Universal Pictures)

In their first collaboration since the Oscar-nominated "Frost/Nixon" in 2008, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan team up for an action movie of sorts. Their first effort was a political power struggle, this time it's the feud between the top two Formula One racers in the 1976 season; James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The two drivers couldn't be more different. Hunt is a somewhat privileged English guy who likes the partying lifestyle and the ladies (one of the first scenes is him having sex with a nurse after being treated for fighting over another man's woman). Lauda, from a wealthy Austrian family of bankers, is a more shut-in personality. He doesn't like parties, he's disciplined, and he takes the world of racing very seriously.

Naturally, this makes a great premise for Morgan whose writing often deals with two opposites going head-to-head in some sort of battle (see "The Queen," "The Last King of Scotland," "Longford," etc.).

The story of Hunt and Lauda's feud would be largely unknown to those that don't follow the world of racing, which is a shame because it was probably one of the best sports feuds of the '70s, if not of all time. When the movie starts we see them preparing for the 1976 German Grand Prix at Nüburgring, the race that almost killed Lauda, and it was a boring way to introduce two people who don't like each other. It even shows it in the trailer and TV spots.

There is no real reason they argue except because of ego. They both claimed to be the best, and you could say they were. Going in to the season's final race at the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji, Lauda led Hunt by only three points in the standings. In typical "underdog" sports movie fashion, we see Hunt as he tries to capture enough points in the last race to take the championship title from Lauda.

Almost all of his work is based on true stories, but this is one of Morgan's failures as a screenwriter. He is so good with establishing David vs. Goliath characters from real life stories that this felt like the laziest of his efforts. Lauda and Hunt aren't particularly likable characters, but that doesn't matter. Morgan has failed to establish these characters beyond the fact that they're like two bickering kids on the playground. It comes off as a cheaply written action film that wants to take itself seriously but there's no reason to.

Although I didn't like the movie I think it would have started better if the final voice-over was moved to the beginning of the movie. It would have given a better establishment of these two racers

Part of the movie's failure is Howard's fault. It's not like this is the first time dealing with Morgan's material, or even making an action movie, but we didn't seem to know what to do with the script either. "Is this an action movie, or a drama? We'll combine it and see what happens," seems like a conversation Howard had in his head. Instead of half-assing one focus, he did it with two.

There was nothing really action-y about it, except for the ear drum exploding noise. The editing was really sloppy during the very brief race scenes and it was hard to know which driver was in the lead. And if I had to see one more shot where the camera was sitting on the lip of the track as the cars zoomed by out of focus I was going to kill myself. It wasn't interesting the first time, and it wasn't interesting an hour later.

Oh, and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle needs to stop with his overly dramatic, lens flare-dripping out of focus shots to show blurry vision. It was more of a distraction than a thematic element.

I was looking forward to this movie after the success Howard and Morgan had with "Frost/Nixon," but I was let down. Can't make a great movie with a bad script no matter how many overbearing sound effects and fast cars you put in it.

Hunt died in June 1993, but Lauda is still alive, with permanent burn markings on his face from Nüburgring. Fortunately for Hunt, he wouldn't have to sit through this mess as Lauda could.

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