“The wedding is announced between James Hunt, racing driver, and Niki Lauda, racing driver, the ceremony to be held over 10 rain-drenched laps at Nürburgring … ” It is impossible not to daydream during a movie. Is Rush the ultimate sporting bromance? Is it an all-male Beauty and the Beast, pairing blond and handsome Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) with crash-disfigured Lauda (Daniel Brühl)? By the end of this full-blown Formula One love/hate drama directed by Ron Apollo 13 Howard from a truth-based script by Peter “I do real people” Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), I was a tingling expanse of emotion, having sold my soul to nonsense because the nonsense is such giddy fun.
World champion Lauda went head to head with Hunt during the 1976 racing season, an all-summer nailbiter highlighted by the Austrian points-leader’s nearly fatal crash at Nürburgring, from which he returned six weeks later – a Phoenix from the burns unit – to give the catching-up Hunt the fight of his life.
The film is outrageously enjoyable. Outrageous, because it embellishes shamelessly. Come on – we want to say – Hunt and Lauda did think of other things now and then than their mutual obsession, their petrolheads’ romance powering towards near-Liebestod. But Howard/Morgan could reply, “Look here upon the unerring magic of opposites.” Hunt was a hunky British “himbo”, a blond James Bond before Daniel Craig. Lauda was a charisma-challenged Teuton with rat-like teeth. (Hunt jokes that the burns have improved his looks.) If opposites attract, what else is needed for the story of a professional coup de foudre?
The persuasive touch is the devilish detailing. The frenzy and fol-de-rol of Formula One are finely caught, possibly excepting a race-side commentator scripted to explain the obvious to idiots. “Hunt will fall behind in this race if he does not push forward … ” (From imperfect memory I mimic rather than reproduce.) There is truth enough in Rush to make a tall story stand tall without toppling, if you add, as the director of Apollo 13 knows how, action and spectacle, plus a bit of the other, normal romance (Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara), plus lead performances that add panache to a fair measure of lookalikeness.
Don’t you love those film trailers that begin with a portentous, deep, rich-as-treacle voice saying, “In a world where (blah blah, dinosaurs roam or citizens of the future hold survival games), imagine two people (blah blah, fill in people) … ” In a World … is about folk who do these larynx larks for a living. In a commercial screen-culture world dominated by the insanities of advertising and promotion – you see, the formula is catching? – imagine a comedy in which the voice-coach daughter (Lake Bell, also writing and directing) of an ads/trailers vocal supremo (molasses-tongued Fred Melamed) wants to hit the big time herself and become a rival to both dad and handsome, successful Gustav (Ken Marino) who …
Oh, never mind. Just believe me: it is funny. Bell is an assured performer, with some Diane-Keaton-in-Annie-Hall mannerisms, and her script has a sly yet pinging sophistication. She knows her jargons, from Hollywood promotional speak to broad-spectrum psychobabble. “Positive roadblocking” is new to me: a term, apparently, for people who distract your line of thought deliberately by jumping about and comically screaming. In a world where American comedies often die in ditches, pushed in by negative roadblocking (useless scripts, miscast stars), here is an affirmative mirth work, modestly cast, which actually makes you giggle.
A cure for giggling can be found in Fernando Trueba’s The Artist and the Model. A slow Spanish-directed French film in black and white about a country-dwelling sculptor (Jean Rochefort), his peasant model (Aida Folch), his neglected wife (Claudia Cardinale) and the doomy encroachment of the German occupation? It doesn’t sound fun. Even co-scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the film takes time to get going. There is reward eventually, though: in Rochefort’s plain but noble-nosed suffering, in some acute dialogue about the pains and paradoxes of art creation.
Harrison Ford in the truth-based baseball drama 42 plays Branch Rickey, the legendary (we are told) 1940s manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He plays him as a crusty-lovable curmudgeon in one of those cornball “character” performances that sometimes win an action-hero star a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I wanted to kick Ford/Rickey into next Christmas, and you can add the movie. Its corny triumphalism is barely bearable.
Rickey hired the legendary, we are likewise told, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the first black to play in a Major League team. Have a guess at the story that emerges. Does Robinson (a) flop and get fired? Or (b) fit painlessly into a middling-competent team? Or (c) overcome prejudice and hatred to achieve baseball glory while eyes mist over, soundtrack trumpets bray and the baby-holding wife stands in the bleachers like a Madonna and child? Yes, it’s (c). The schmaltzy self-righteousness of this film from the once-reckonable Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of LA Confidential) sets you up, then the celestial trumpets slay you.
White House Down at least offers moments of rogue hilarity. In a world where America’s home of democracy is under repeated threat (Olympus Has Fallen), imagine two men, a Secret Service job applicant thrown into premature action (Channing Tatum) and a president (Jamie Foxx doing Obama), battling heroically as the White House is stormed.
Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) can do these films in his sleep; which may be why they sometimes emerge as nightmares of crazed, florid hokum. The baddies, led by renegade Secret Service head James Woods, blast and batter the goodies till the goodies find a way to circumvent plausibility and win the day. In this film, happily, there aren’t too many trumpets. And the name of Tatum’s character, John Cale (like the composer), suggests at least one moment of eclectic, intertextual mischief during the screenwriting phase.