Racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) await the checkered flag in "Rush." The movie is about the rivalry between the two Formula One drivers in the 1970s.

Universal Pictures/courtesy

Racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) await the checkered flag in "Rush." The movie is about the rivalry between the two Formula One drivers in the 1970s.

The Bock’s Office: Racing film ‘Rush’ spins out of control fast

— Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Chris Evert had Martina Navratilova. The team of cheerleaders from “Bring It On” had the other team of cheerleaders from “Bring It On.”

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

If you go

“Rush,” rated R

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Running time: 122 minutes

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.

A good rivalry can push athletes to their peak or leave them to crash and burn, a pair of conditions that’s very applicable for the two sportsmen of “Rush” as well as describing the quality of the movie itself.

In the 1970s, the sport of Formula One racing has no two competitors more mismatched than James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

The former is a swaggering Brit whose daring, often foolhardy tactics on the track have helped him make a name for himself. The latter is his polar opposite: a fastidious Austrian obsessed with the precision and science of driving, a trait that’s made him no friends within the circuit.

Hunt and Lauda clash time and again, working their way through the ranks of the European racing system, with each glorious victory for one made an even more bitter defeat for the other. Both of them want a triumph more and more with each race, but it isn’t until one fateful August day in 1976 that they realize how much their careers depend on one another.

Wearing a scarf and jumpsuit rather than a cape and battle armor, “Thor” star Hemsworth has no shortage of confidence as the notorious charmer Hunt, who lives for the fame that comes with racing as much as the thrills he gets behind the wheel, knowing full well it will last for only so long. But if you need proof of his self-doubt, watch him toss his cookies before strapping himself into his auto.

German actor Brühl is oddly even more magnetic as Hunt’s continental counterpart, with Lauda so determined to achieve perfection that he barely notices how much everyone in the sport despises him. Not a huge surprise from a man who brags that his best feature is a posterior so sensitive it can determine a mechanical problem of any car in which he’s riding.

They’re not easy guys to love, but they do have women who tolerate them. Olivia Wilde has some fleeting moments as Hunt’s supermodel wife, Suzy Miller, whose affair with actor Richard Burton was well-publicized in the middle of her husband’s most harrowing time, while Alexandra Maria Lara is more solid as Lauda’s loyal lover, Marlene, whose grimaces watching each race become increasingly difficult to bear.

Not to bag on American racing, but there’s something inescapably invigorating about the Formula One system, especially that of yesteryear, and watching racers rip across the countryside as opposed to just within one big stadium. Director Ron Howard gets it, giving us more flawless auto stunts than you could have asked for in his latest movie, which has as much speed to spare as any of the recent “The Fast and the Furious” installments.

Unfortunately, Howard goes into overdrive when it comes to the dramatics of the relationship between Hunt and Lauda, whose mutual enmity dissolves into begrudging respect as their rivalry continues. Peter Morgan’s screenplay has little to none of the wit and subtlety of far superior biopics he’s written, like “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon,” beating it into our heads again and again that yes, competition does inspire greatness.

The audio-visual component of this film doesn’t exactly make it a must-see for everyone either. Subjective though it may be, a little of one of Hans Zimmer’s compositions goes a long way while we’re at it, with his music almost as loud as the engines.

What’s more, it’s hard to connect with professional racers in the throes of their sport when their faces are covered by a helmet and a fireproof balaclava. Let’s all give a cheer for the guy with two eyes because that’s the only feature we can see!

Even with a story that’s often riveting, “Rush” runs out of fuel all too soon in its two-hour running time. Some may find it an overall success, but just because you crossed the finish line doesn’t mean you came in first.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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