‘Rush’: Racing drama gets checkered flag

As the two sports rivals face each other in “Rush,” they share an observation: They might not have become champions without each other. Sometimes the thing you need to excel is a really good enemy.

The same principle provides the movie’s appeal. The starkly drawn differences between our two race-car rivals are sketched early, and that’s all the character development we need or get.

“Rush,” directed by Ron Howard, isn’t a deep experience, but it succeeds with two interesting roles and a lot of corny vroom-vroom racetrack footage.

The real-life rivals were Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who competed in the 1970s. Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), a swaggering Englishman with rockstar looks, spends his time bed-hopping and whiskey-chugging. He’s a poster boy for bad behavior.

Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) takes a methodical approach, which makes him a far less likable colleague than fun-loving Hunt, but he wins a lot of races.

They trade hostile barbs though, after a while, screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) shrewdly draws out the genuine respect and regard the two men share.

Hunt and Fouda are pretty much the whole show, except for spousal roles played by Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara — whose tasks are pretty thankless, it must be said.

Hemsworth (best known as the hammering man in “Thor”) has charisma to spare as Hunt, and given the once-over-lightly treatment of the character, he needs it.

The German actor Daniel Bruhl is a big star in Europe and perhaps best known here for his role in “Inglourious Basterds.”

He makes Lauda a fussy, frowning technician of the sport, a real square who lives a clean life and goes to bed early.

The hunky face of Chris Hemsworth dominates the movie’s posters, but the film itself sides more with Bruhl’s Lauda.

You have to wonder: Does the famously clean-cut Ron Howard see himself in this modest technician? Howard’s no colorful Tarantino or Scorsese, but a family man who makes inoffensive movies with broad appeal. No wonder Lauda gets some of the best lines.

The movie has Howard’s tendency to over-explain everything, but the cars are handsome and the ’70s look is authentic. In fact, this is the best Ron Howard film since — well, a heckuva long time. But who’s counting.

“Rush” (3 stars)

A 1970s Formula One rivalry between drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) makes for an enjoyable Ron Howard picture, with lots of vroom-vroom racetrack footage and authentic ’70s atmosphere.

Rating: R, for nudity, language, violence.

Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Guld 45th, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville and Cascade Mall theaters.

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