Director Ron Howard's "Rush" — the story of one of the greatest rivalries in Formula 1 racing — is as sleek and streamlined in design as a Ferrari. And it's driven to its conclusion by high-octane performances supplied by Chris Hemsworth as the life-loving English racer James Hunt and Daniel Brühl as the fiercely focused Austrian driver Niki Lauda.
The problem is that the lack of an emotional center leaves "Rush" feeling like it is stuck in second gear.
Great sports movies must go beyond the track, field or other venue to capitalize on the human elements. Fictional works can create these moments as needed.
But because "Rush" is based on the true story of the 1976 battle between the two racers to capture the World Championship, the problems in the script are inherited from how the actual events unfolded in that season.
The drivers — exact opposites off the track — wage a very personal battle to be able to claim dominance on the Grand Prix circuit. This all would have been a first place combination if the story had just been able to be as moving off the track as it was on.
The chief problem is Lauda, who is a brilliant driver but is so unlikable that even the members of his own racing team don't care for him. He buys his way into the racing world, which does little to ingratiate him with other drivers and the audience.
Even when he lets his guard down for a moment to let another person into his life, his reactions are cold and emotionless.
Brühl does a great job getting across the sanctimonious attitude of Lauda, but while it is a great performance, it does little to win over an audience.
There's a major incident in the middle of the race season where a traditional sports movie would begin to play on the emotions of the audience. But because Lauda is driven by his competitive spirit and jealousy of Hunt, his recovery doesn't lend itself the kind of touching moments that define great sports movies.
That big moment never comes.
Hemsworth has a little more latitude in playing Hunt, and he plays him as a man who faces life with the same veracity as he faces death on the track. He's equally motivated by — and hampered by — his competitive battle with Lauda.
But again, the missing piece is that emotional moment between the pair. Howard tacks on an epilogue that tries to find that touching core, but by that point, "Rush" had lost speed because of its lack of emotional fuel.
This is still an exciting story about competition, but without that stirring moment of humanity that helps sports movies win over the audience, "Rush" comes up a lap short.
"Rush," rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, disturbing images. Stars Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde. Directed by Ron Howard. Running time: 123 minutes. Grade: B-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.