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Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star in Ron Howard's Rush.
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star in Ron Howard's Rush.

In America, Formula 1 racing is kind of like soccer. It has passionate followers, but remains largely in the shadows of NASCAR in terms of mainstream popularity, the way the NFL beats the brains out of soccer for fan worship here. (Proof of that: An hour-long rain delay in the Sunday night NFL game a couple weeks ago drew the second-highest ratings of any show all week.)

But Rush should have no problem overcoming a lack of familiarity with audiences in the United States. Ron Howard’s name is splashed across the ads, Chris Hemsworth (Marvel’s Thor) is front and center, and the cars are loud and fast. But this really isn’t just Days of Thunder redux. It’s a highly polished performance machine, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Howard’s better films, but one that gladly sacrifices depth for entertainment.

Hemsworth plays James Hunt, England’s F1 world champion in the mid-1970s. Hunt had a rivalry with the Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), which was apparently friendlier than it’s portrayed on screen. They were destined to be at loggerheads: Hunt was a striking blond party boy who would drink or even take drugs until minutes before a race while Lauda approached racing methodically and mathematically. As it plays out, Rush becomes more Lauda’s journey than Hunt’s, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the film marketed entirely differently in Europe, where the story is better-known and where Lauda is a living legend.

Thankfully, Howard can hang his film on the performance of Daniel Brühl, who is the second-best thing about this movie. The first? As it is with any racing movie that gets it right, the action takes center stage. The competitive sequences are exhilarating, and even qualifying and time trials move the needle. While not nearly as good as Senna, last year’s exquisite Formula 1 documentary, Rush is still a solid, energetic sports flick that manages to hit all the high notes.

Rush Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde. Directed by Ron Howard, R, 123 mins.