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Chris Hemsworth throws down the hammer on the race track as Hunt. James Hunt.

I remember a time when Grand Theft Auto wasn’t a popular video game, but the debut movie directed by Ron Howard from Happy Days. I also think of him in relation to hot rods when he acted in the movie American Graffiti and he says, “Eat my dust” before peeling out. Most probably forgot his movie from a few years ago called The Dilemma. Vince Vaughn and Kevin James make ‘60s muscle cars that are electric, but still sound loud.

So it’s nice to see that Howard, who likes to make films about real people and events, tackles the 1976 rivalry between Formula 1 race drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl, The Bourne Ultimatum) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, Thor). They not only look a lot like the racers, their performances are solid.

I brought my friend Joe Harding who races cars, and had met Hunt a handful of times. He told me lots of stories that were captured perfectly in the film.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) had been trying to sell his script before Howard jumped on board.

Harding told me he didn’t believe there was as much rivalry between the two racers earlier in their careers, and I’ve found other statements along those same lines. One of my knocks on Howard is that he fictionalizes real stories. He’s done it in all his pictures. I’m also guessing the scene where Hunt beats up a reporter was fabricated, as I couldn’t find anything written about that incident. You’ll give that a pass, as the scene is a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to slug an obnoxious reporter?

I also doubt another incident ever occurred, although it was cute. It’s a little twist on the Clark Gable scene in It Happened One Night. Lara’s car breaks down, after Lauda tried warning her it had a number of mechanical problems. They tried to hitch a ride, and the following 10 minutes were fun.

Sitting next to Harding was a blast, because he’d sometimes educate me on things in the movie. For instance, when Lauda shows his mechanics how to make the car faster, he tells somebody on the track that it will be two seconds faster. Harding leaned in and told me that’s a world of difference in a race. He also said, “I’ve never seen a racing movie that really captured the speed these cars go the way this film did.”

It was a great point, because in real races you can see cameras in the cars. It’s a great view, but when other cars are going the same speed, it’s not the same as the way cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle captured the action here. You get the sights and sounds of what it must be like on the track. There was one point when the cars started up, and we get the view from behind them. I felt a rumbling in my stomach and a tad nervous.

The women in the movie (Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara) aren’t given much to do. One is a model that grows tired of Hunt’s behavior, and the other is quietly supportive of Lauda. And speaking of women, I’m not sure why every woman Hunt came into contact with we had to see him seducing. It could be a stewardess on a plane, they’d be off to the bathroom. A waitress, secretary, groupies…it got old quick. We get the point. He was a womanizer.

When an animated movie comes out, I’m always asked if the adults will enjoy it, too. I’m guessing with this, couples are going to wonder if they’ll both enjoy it. Well, I know very little about racing and the subject doesn’t interest me much. Yet I enjoyed the documentary Senna a few years ago (about a Brazilian Formula One driver), and I had fun with this. Since it’s an interesting character study about two very different people, it’s interesting to see who people will root for. I found Lauda, although socially inept and a bit cold, to be more likable. There’s something about a guy that would rather spend all night working with his mechanics instead of all night with women, that makes me want him to win. It’s surprising that Howard didn’t script the movie to give us a villain to dislike, although Lauda was involved in the writing of the script. That’s probably why it never went in that direction.

The racing scenes were exhilarating, the trash talking at the press conferences was funny, and the Thin Lizzy, Mud, Slade, Dave Edmunds, and Spencer Davis Group songs added to the ‘70s vibe. The score provided by Hans Zimmer evoked just the right emotions, too.

The movie could be a bit formulaic at times – whether it’s the edits on the race track or the melodrama at home. So what. That’s what movies do.

Now, if somebody can just explain to me why the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler had to put the “Lee Daniels’” in front of the title. The filmmaker said it was because there was another movie called The Butler in 1916. Yet I remember working at a radio station when we premiered a Jason Patric/Jennifer Jason Leigh movie called Rush in 1991. So why was Ron Howard allowed to use the same title? That being said, I don’t even particularly like the title “Rush” for this. Not once did a character talk about the adrenaline rush of the sports. Perhaps a better title would’ve been “Rivalry.”

I gave the 1991 movie Rush only 2 stars out of 5.

I give Rush the talk radio broadcaster, 0 stars out of 5.

Rush the band, gets 3 stars out of 5.

This Rush gets 4 out of 5, and I predict it will be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

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