Ron Howard does indeed possess a beautiful mind. Let us count the ways the world would be diminished without him: First, there never would’ve been an Opie (and what a barren patch the universe would be had there never been such a thing as an Opie). Or a Richie Cunningham. Artists have achieved immortality by leaving imprints on popular culture less indelible than those two.
But Howard grew up, and, rather than becoming a member of that most tedious of species — the former child actor with issues — he became a director of movies without which the world would be a less interesting place. Cocoon. Apollo 13. Cinderella Man. Frost/Nixon. And, yes, A Beautiful Mind.
If he had made but a couple of those, Howard’s place in the pantheon still would’ve been assured. Though his large-headed brother Clint definitely would have had a harder time making ends meet in Hollywood. Did that dude luck out, or what?
Even operating at only half power, Howard has produced work more watchable than that of most directors, nothing-to-sneeze-at entertainments such as Night Shift, Parenthood, The Paper (which foreshadowed the current print journalism crisis) and The Missing.
Of course, even Orson Welles had off days. What was that beautiful mind thinking, I wonder, when he committed to projects such as Gung Ho, Backdraft, EDtv (which foreshadowed the current reality craze but seriously blew anyway) and this one?
When you review movies on TV, you do what’s called a “standup,” a quick on-camera intro before cutting to the clips. A favorite I’ve used a hundred times over the past 30 years goes “X has directed some of the most memorable and masterfully crafted movies of our time. This isn’t one of them.”
That’s my intro to Rush, an overrated racing picture that literally goes nowhere fast. Scripted by Peter Morgan (The Queen), it offers the souped-up, Hollywoodized version of the real-life rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) for the 1976 Formula One championship. Ironically, that’s the movie’s biggest problem: formula.
For the first time, Howard completely dispenses with character development. Hunt’s a handsome risk taker who loves women, booze and drugs. Lauda has an overbite that locks his face in a rodent-like sneer. He’s methodical and lacking in social skills. It’s the rock star versus the monk.
For two hours, they trade insults and drive fast. The races blur together. Cars whiz by. Classic rock tunes blare (none by Rush). There’s the occasional spin-out. Breathless announcers keep us up to speed on who’s ahead as the months-long competition progresses.
The on-track action is difficult to follow in places, and the filmmakers prove stingy when it comes to doling out information on the workings of the sport. That’s a problem, given that few in the audience are likely to have expert knowledge. There’s some business about “wets,” a type of tire, for example. Hunt insists on using them because Lauda is. It’s apparently a point of honor, but, just as the announcer’s about to provide clarification, he’s drowned out by “Gimme Some Lovin’” or one of the soundtrack’s other golden oldies.
Even if it weren’t based on a true story, Rush would rank among the most predictable sports movies ever made. Female members of the cast, including Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s neglected wife, take a backseat, and the film’s final act stalls and sputters as the director shifts clumsily into sentimental gear. Somebody should’ve waved a bromance warning flag.
For the life of me, I can’t fathom the 88 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating for this drag of a race drama. In all the years I’ve spent watching Howard’s work, I can’t recall being half as happy to reach the finish line.
* Running time: 123 min.
* Rated: R