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posted: 9/26/2013 6:00 AM

Hemsworth, Bruhl standouts in Ron Howard's racy chrome-ance 'Rush'

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  • James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), left, shares a fierce rivalry with Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in Ron Howard's formula Formula One race drama "Rush."

      James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), left, shares a fierce rivalry with Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in Ron Howard's formula Formula One race drama "Rush."

  • Video: "Rush" trailer

 
 

Ron Howard's Formula One race drama "Rush" is just that, one formula race drama with the prerequisite squealing tires, roaring engines, squealing and roaring fans, and two tough rivals who drive Peter Morgan's serviceable screenplay into high gear.

Call it "The Racer's Edge." Its two stars -- Chris "Thor" Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl -- elevate this quick-start feature with clearly drawn characterizations possessing such conflicting contrasts that they act as dramatic additive fueling this story.

Morgan based his screenplay on the true tale of racing rivals Niki Lauda and James Hunt, who dominated the Formula One sport during the 1970s.

Hunt, played with cocksure charisma by Hemsworth, drives his personal life as hard as his car. A shameless ladies man, the handsome and social Hunt is everything that Lauda (Bruhl) cannot be.

A reclusive, calculating driver with no time for distractions -- women, friends, parties, life -- Lauda slightly resembles a rat as he scurries about in his constant quest for ways to become a Formula One champion and beat the arrogant Hunt.

Both men eventually marry.

Hunt hooks up with adorable model Suzy Miller (the always-fetching Olivia Wilde). Lauda lands the lovely Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), who at first has never heard of him or Formula One.

It might come as no surprise that Hunt's brief marriage winds up in divorce. (Suzy trades up for Lothario actor Richard Burton.)

The surprise might be that Marlene takes those wedding vows to heart and stands by her temperamental guy even after he makes it clear that racing, not her, is the real passion of his life.

She also stands by Lauda after a horrific accident at the Nurburgring track in Germany (nicknamed "the Graveyard") that almost burns him to death and sears his lungs.

"Rush" is no regular love story. The women take a back seat to the chrome-ance between the two leads who develop a begrudging respect for each other. (In reality, Hunt and Lauda became good friends despite their ultracompetitive natures.)

The rather routine racing scenes in "Rush" resemble the quick-cut sequences from many other films such as "Days of Thunder" and "Grand Prix." (What's with all those cameras on the ground capturing how the racing cars blow the grass around?)

Morgan, the Oscar-nominated writer who penned Howard's film of his stage play "Frost/Nixon," turns in a pedestrian script dependent upon dull voice-overs, and capped with Bruhl's sentimental speech to Hunt that, although emotionally valid, doesn't ring true to the racers' established relationship.

Despite strong performances by Hemsworth and Bruhl, the lead characters as written by Morgan remain fairly one-dimensional. One is the popular jock. The other the dark social misfit. (Significantly, movie posters for "Rush" feature large close-ups of Hemsworth while ignoring Bruhl, despite the fact that he tells most of the story here.)

"Rush" represents a homecoming of sorts for Howard, who began his directing career with the ultra-low-budget chase film "Grand Theft Auto." (He directed it for no salary, taking only a fee for acting to keep the production costs down.)

"Rush" may boast a much bigger budget than "Grand Theft Auto" and be a more technically crafted motion picture.

But the latter is sure a lot more fun.

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