You know why Ron Howard stinks? Because he has an achingly obvious commercial style, plus he’s too white-bread middle brow. If he occasionally hits the mark(“Apollo 13”, “Frost/Nixon”)it’s usually because a terrific cast carried him through. His strongest directorial distinction is his blandness. Take a scene from his latest feature “Rush”, an auto-racing film about the 1970s’ competition between Formula One drivers, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. In it, actress Alexandra Mari Lara is playing Niki’s eventual wife, Marlene. They are driving after having just vacated a party, and meeting for the first time outside. Niki(the solid, deliberately cadenced, Daniel Bruhl), known for being able to analyze a vehicle’s issues just by the “feel” of it, insists that she needs some repair—as she counters that her automobile is in perfect working order. Now, does it take a clairvoyant to determine that Mr. Howard will immediately cut to a scene of the two of them standing idly by a broken down vehicle? Opie’s canon is littered with that kind-of-stuff, and he’s 60-years-old now—so he should know better. He’s a blatantly mainstream helmer with all the subtlety of an ink stain on a white dress.
Race car drivers James Hunt(“Thor” Chris Hemsworth, perfectly cast, and monotonously written as the “wild” type)and Niki Lauda(Bruhl, of course, the bed-by-eight disciplinarian that plays by the rules)began a heated rivalry while both were still in their early twenties. We witness them needling each other behind-the-scenes of racing events to the point where a real hatred is brewing. Everything(women, popularity)comes too easy for Hunt, while the unattractive Lauda struggles through life and human interaction. But on the racetrack, they are fierce, and often evenly matched combatants. It eventually comes down to the 1976 Formula One season determining who’s the best, after a number of years on the circuit together. But at a race in Germany, tragedy strikes, when Niki is terribly injured and suffers disfiguring burns to the face after a crash on a rain-soaked raceway. It appears that Hunt may win the championship by default, with Lauda out of a number of races with his injuries. But an unlikely return, just might bring things right down to the wire.
Ron Howard seems like an awfully nice guy, and he even gave me a nice big smile and nod at an industry event once(and this after my friend spotted him and too-loudly exclaimed, “it’s Opie!”), but his style is way too broad and safe for my liking. Maybe I’ve just never forgiven him for winning Best Director and Picture for 2001’s mediocrity “A Beautiful Mind”, during a year that gave us David Lynch’s masterpiece, “Mulholland Dr.” I do hold grudges. However, I also feel that I’ve bent over backwards to say positive things about his work in the past, even after releasing that dreadful and garish “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in the year 2000. And, he had often-capable screenwriter Peter Morgan(“The Queen”, “Frost/Nixon”)penning the script for “Rush”, so I kind of expected a little better. There are some impressively mounted racing scenes in the film, so I will give some credit for that. However, every aspect of the Hunt-Lauda face/offs are painfully predictable, with his actors portraying pigeon-holed caricatures instead of real people. This happens a lot in Ron Howard films, so I can’t say I’m surprised. And the lack of surprises is perennially the issue with Opie, and I can’t just keep letting it slide. “Rush” is no disaster, it’s just not very exciting—or very good either. Grade: C