For me, RUSH will always be the directorial debut feature of Lili Fini Zanuck (remember her), daughter of producer Richard Zanuck featuring Jason Patric (remember him) one of the original stars of THE LOST BOYS. It is now the title of Ron Howard’s new picture, the same Howard who gave us that celluloid abomination, the insult to audiences ‘tout le monde’ that was THE DILEMMA. I know you thought I was going to mention THE DA VINCI CODE or ED TV (remember that, came out the same time as THE TRUMAN SHOW) but, no, THE DILEMMA featured the double act of Vince Vaughn and Kevin James that should never have been. ‘Should I tell my best friend that his wife is cheating on him?’ Wrong question! Should somebody tell Howard that the movie isn’t funny – that’s more to the point!
Incidentally, I saw THE RAILWAY MAN the other day, thinking it was the sequel to that Patrick Dempsey movie, THE WOO WOO KID – big mistake.
So RUSH, written by Peter Morgan is the story of the rivalry between two Formula One drivers, the Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the 1976 season. Hunt is all ‘roger that’ which is to say that he is a skirt chaser, as we say in England; Lauda is ‘roger and out’. He is clinical and doesn’t really endear him to his technicians and pit crew, or so the movie would have you believe. They are fierce rivals. Hunt is reckless, Lauda technically gifted. Hunt does commercials for motor oil, Lauda is the voice of ‘speak and spell’ (no, not really, but he could have been).
In the movie, which is a phrase I’ll use quite a lot because I don’t entirely trust its portrayal, they first meet in 1970 at a Formula Three contest at Crystal Palace race track. I’ll credit the production team for actually appearing to use that location, though the track no longer exists. Hunt has a country gent backer, having upset his pater, and cuts up Lauda in their first encounter causing him to lose. Lauda spits curses at him; Hunt is arrogant and takes unnecessary risks in his efforts to win. Hunt enjoys the champagne, or Pomade, which I remember was drunk in the 1970s, along with Watney’s Party Seven and Babycham.
Americans use Pomade for their hair - Brits drink the stuff. That’s why we’re cousins.
In order to break his way into Formula One, Lauda buys his way in. He is eventually accepted by Ferrari as the number two driver. In the movie, he complains that car is too slow and heavy and arranges for the replacement of some of the parts. After a long night’s work, he barely acknowledges the crew. I’m tempted to say he had autism.
Lauda’s car is faster than the main driver’s, taking a circuit 2.3 seconds faster. He soon proves successful. While Lauda has a sponsor, Hunt does not. His backer takes him to Formula One where he is a close second.
Hunt has a whirlwind romance with a model, Suzy (Olivia Wilde). Lauda cadges a lift from a beautiful Italian (Alexandra Maria Lara), who does not see him as a racing star. ‘Why don’t you drive the car fast?’ ‘I don’t need to.’ ‘Do it for me.’ Cut to a car with a blown engine. Did I believe in this scene, given Lauda’s knowledge of engines? No, reader, I did not.
Hunt receives an awkward phone call. ‘Do you know what day it is?’ ‘November 14.’ ‘What’s so special about November 14?’ ‘Fawlty Towers Series Two begins?’ It is the deadline for finding a sponsor. Hunt doesn’t have one. Hesketh can’t afford it anymore; he might have to sell the family pile, which is a house, not a heap of dung. So Hunt loses it with Suzy, forcing her into the arms of Richard Burton. ‘I married a racing driver with my eyes open,’ says Suzy, which of course she did, otherwise she might have walked into the priest. ‘Go away, then,’ growls the wounded, boozing Hunt. ‘There must be some hand cream that needs your face to flog it.’ Actually, they’ll need her hand; it’s hand moisturiser.
Hunt does of course find a team to drive for, Marlboro. He solves most of his problems with casual sex – ‘the fan belt is broken’, ‘right, take your clothes off’ – in contrast with the martially-faithful Lauda. Hunt carries out pre-visualisation exercises; Lauda prefers to look at the course. They clash again at the German Grand Prix, where the course is affected by rain. Howard’s staging of this sequence is genuinely exciting and ends with an accident that literally scars one of the drivers for life.
The racing sequences are the best thing about the movie. Howard watched a lot of 1970s British television as preparation, which shows in the retrograde portrayal of sexual politics. It is a rather simplistic, visceral film. It holds the attention and is well-acted by its leads, creditable accents all, though I could not tell if Brühl sounded Austrian as opposed to German. It represents the reunion of two stars from the cult (read ‘marginally popular’) hospital comedy, GREEN WING, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Stephen Mangan. Will this mean anything to an international audience? Probably not!
At its heart, it’s a bromance. ‘You can’t hate someone without liking them,’ says Hunt. Really - Adolf Hitler, anyone? You end up admiring Lauda in particular, who recognises what’s important in life, or does according to the movie.
Although he resembles Hunt, THOR star Hemsworth can’t quite shake off his Norse God persona. ‘When is he going to mention the Bio-frost?’ I mused. He is certainly a draw for some of the audience, who came to marvel at his pectoral region. I just wondered how he got the hammer into the car.
RUSH is competing for British film of the month with a Richard Curtis comedy, ABOUT TIME. Curtis has the edge, though I enjoyed RUSH more. Actually, it is a bit of a blur. Its best sequences involve cars not people. It offers mechanical pleasures then, doing to the audience what Hunt does to his groupies. A quick injection, then ‘what was that about?’
Reviewed at Cineworld, Haymarket, Central London, Wednesday 18 September