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Ron Howard provides the big 'Rush' at the movies as summer ends

MoviesChris HemsworthOpen-Wheel RacingDwayne JohnsonAlexandra Maria LaraChris Matthews

"EXCUSE ME, please. But could you keep it down?"

"Oh, sure."

Ten minutes later: "I'm so sorry, but honestly, your chatter is distracting me."

"Gee, I didn't realize."

This civilized exchange was conducted during the opening 20 minutes of the new Ron Howard movie "Rush," which was screened in Manhattan last Thursday, hosted by The Cinema Society and Ferrari.

Alas, a certain beautiful blonde just couldn't stop talking -- to her seatmate -- and on her cell phone. She was finally silenced by no nonsense Elle/Cosmo writer Sergio Kletnoy. I can't repeat what he said, but suffice to say it had the desired effect. (The blond is Swedish model and actress Victoria Silvstedt. She really is a terribly nice girl. But she needs to channel her love to talk in some other way. Maybe "The View" needs a hot blonde?)

BELIEVE ME, "Rush" is not a movie you want to talk through. In fact, it is hard to catch one's breath as it progresses. It is the true-ish tale of Formula One racing champs James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (an astonishing Daniel Bruhl.) It's about their nearly deadly rivalry. I'm not much of a racing fan, but director Howard beautifully captures the mise en scene of the mid-1970s, when racing and its stars were peaking. It is impossible not to get caught up in the tale, a slow burn that builds and builds until you are all but convinced you are right there in various European and Asian cities, behind the wheel, determined to win at any cost.

Howard's spot-on directing plays a major role in conveying the excitement. But the leading men, Hemsworth and Bruhl, are almost never off screen and carry the film through every twist and turn and blazing wreck. Hemsworth is almost distractingly beautiful, like a more finely chiseled -- not to mention younger -- Brad Pitt. His thick head of hair alone is poem-worthy. (The one fast glimpse of his naked backside had the audience audibly yelling out, "Let's see more!") And he can act. It's a difficult role. He plays a talented but feckless playboy racer, a drinker, a womanizer, unable to commit. Still, you root for him.

Bruhl, on the other hand, while shorter, and meant to be less attractive, is driven, somewhat humorless and utterly professional. He is not charmed by James Hunt, though he respects the talent beneath the wanton lifestyle. You root for him, too.

The women are peripheral. Olivia Wilde appears as Hunt's wife, Suzy, a model from whom he is quickly estranged. Suzy would go on to become the third real-life wife of Richard Burton; their affair is alluded to briefly in "Rush." (And boy, do I recall that business -- Burton kissing Suzy at Sardi's while a stunned and miserable Elizabeth Taylor looked on.)

As Niki Lauda's wife Marlene, Alexandra Maria Lara has more to do, and conveys quite a bit without much dialogue. She is lovely, and stands by her man during the worst of times.

"Rush" is visceral, virile movie-making. But I noticed most of the women in the audience seemed as caught up as the guys. (Although there are a number of moments that had even strong men wincing and looking away from the screen.) The film runs two hours but it increases in intensity to the point that it seems not like two hours at all.

This is one of Ron Howard's best efforts. It confirms the stellar magnetism of Chris Hemsworth and a star is born in Daniel Bruhl.

HEMSWORTH arrived at the theater looking every inch the star, his hair cut shorter than the mop he tosses around in "Rush." He wore a well-fitting black suit, and a black shirt open at the throat. He was utterly swoony. I know his eyes are rolling back in his head because of all this attention to his looks. Enjoy it while you can, kid. It's gone in a flash.

The screening began, amazingly, on time! Afterward, everybody trucked on over to the Hotel Americano. Well-known types such as Julie Taymor, Paul Haggis, Chris Matthews, Dana Delany, Oliver Platt, Eve Ensler, Dan Abrams and Scott Gorenstein washed down tasty steak hors d'oeuvres and juicy sliders with D'Usse cocktails (aka Lauda's Libation). The always fabulous, in one-way-or-another, Courtney Love also attended. The event organizers were most impressed that Love arrived on time and was seated as the lights went down. This was a first, an apocalyptic moment, I was assured.

The Americano party rooms were discretely lit, the better for everybody to look almost as good as Mr. Hemsworth. One of the rooms had a pool. Alas, nobody dived in. We always love a good jumping-into-a-pool story. So "La Dolce Vita."

With Courtney Love on such good behavior, I suppose The Cinema Society's Andrew Saffir has no recourse but to put Miley Cyrus on his guest list. She likely wouldn't have let that pool go to waste.

I MISSED the first two Vin Diesel "Riddick" films. But over the weekend I went to see the latest. (And they say, the last.) Well, I loved it. Shoot me. It's not high art, but it is high sci-fi adventure. Alien predators, intergalactic bounty hunters, evolutionary dogs and vengeance. And Mr. Diesel whom I have always liked. He has an odd vulnerability under the aggressive muscularity.

It is said that neither he nor Dwayne Johnson will do "family" movies again, because they go against the grain of their action images. Too bad. Both are most appealing in such fare. (And Johnson in particular looks divine in black tie!)

(E-mail Liz Smith at

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