Director Ron Howard's new film, RUSH, can be described as many different things--exhilarating, playful, testosterone-driven. But it can hardly be confused for being a riveting movie. Despite its high-speed racing scenes and witty banter, the story, which follows the relationship between 1970s rival Formula 1 stars James Hunt and Niki Lauda, is simply unfulfilling. While it has its moments of sentimentality, the film as a whole is rather shallow and fails to capture the soul of either man.
Hemsworth stars as hard-boozing, hard-partying, British sex magnet and race car driver James Hunt. While the role gave Hemsworth the opportunity to show some dramatic range, his entire character arc was just summarized in the previous sentence. The character is almost strictly one-dimensional, hugely defined by his chiseled abs, devilish smile and Barbie-like hair. But Hemsworth milks the whole playboy 'tude as best he can-- juggling ladies on each arm (and on either side of the bed), capping off each victory race by showering the crowd with champagne and dousing them with his inflated ego. He's riding high as the racing king until Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) surfaces as the one to beat. The methodical and far more introverted Lauda turns Hunt's winning streak on its head, ultimately setting off a years-long rivalry between the pair, who are neck and neck in nearly every race thereafter.
The supporting characters, though aptly attired in the decade's chicest threads, don't offer much more to the story either. Olivia Wilde plays Suzy Miller, Hunt's estranged wife who spends most of the film pouting and living on the outskirts of Hunt's life. The film shows one particularly fiery argument between the couple, which only goes to show how impossible it was for Hunt to get close to anyone, both professionally and personally (according to Internet reports there seemed to be much more to his character than the shallowness portrayed in the film but unfortunately it is not explored here). Other than Suzy, we meet no one else in Hunt's family, which adds to a lack of character development. To make him even more enigmatic, his death is merely a footnote in the film (offered by none other than Lauda, who narrates).
On the other hand, we're introduced, though in a brief encounter, to Lauda's father, in a scene that marked the race car driver's resilience, independence and determination to do things his way. The addition of his wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), further shapes Lauda's character and really allows Brühl to deliver a more resonating performance. It is also worth noting that Lara does an impressive job in an auxiliary role that doesn't have much dialogue, but still manages to impact each scene.
While screenwriter Peter Morgan creates an effective charm between the improbable duo--even weaving in themes of friendship and collaboration--RUSH still goes nowhere fast. The film may delight race car fans, but those seeking a more compelling story will have to look elsewhere.
Rating: C (**1/2 out of *****)
RUSH is in select theaters this Friday and will open nationwide on September 27th.