Muscle Car Tourney #1: Rush (2013) vs Days of Thunder (1990)
Our opening competition in the Muscle Car Movie Tourney is between Rush (2013) and Days of Thunder (1990), two really similar movies, if you can believe that, so that begs the question: which is really better? Days of Thunder (1990) is obviously a Tom Cruise vehicle, and is about as stock as the cars. It has racing, crashes, hot women, and a bro vs bro competition, the same as Rush (2013). The bro vs bro competition in Rush (2013) is probably a little less by-the-numbers, but a rivalry is still there, just like Days of Thunder (1990). Because of some good character interaction, I think both of these films rise above the average, but not by much.
The formulaic nature of Days of Thunder (1990) is its biggest weakness. There are no surprises in the movie at all. There are only a couple of quips of sharp dialogue to enjoy, at best. The formula is so played out, it feels like it repeats every successful movie ever done with these concepts: a mentor/young man relationship, a dominant attractive woman who gets her man, a redneck NASCAR racer, a risk-taking kid who learns the hard way, and just about every other formulaic thing you could think of. There’s even a villain.
The real appeal of this movie comes from the action, the love story, and the rivalry, to a lesser extent. As for supplemental characters, there’s just not enough for Michael Rooker to do in this film except be a stereotypical jerk, making Cary Elwes as Russ Wheeler more of a villain, but less of a character. Wheeler literally does nothing the entire film but be arrogant and look pissed off at Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise as Cole overcomes obstacles, goes to Daytona, and wins the race fair and square. It’s a happy ending. It works as a conclusion and wraps the film up pretty well, despite it being stock from start to finish. It is a film that wants to be Top Gun, with its high-energy, pulse pounding action, to a bunch of guitars in the backdrop. I think it mostly succeeds because of the pace and Tom Cruise. He uses the formula to his advantage and this is one movie that is remembered above many, many others.
I don’t think Rush (2013) is remembered by all that many people, to be honest, in comparison to Days of Thunder (1990). I mean, Days of Thunder (1990) had video games, comics and all sorts of things tied into it. There was even a mention on Saturday Night Live. Rush has a big aura and reputation to overcome and I’m not sure it does that.
Rush (2013) is a more serious, introspective movie. It has deeper performances and better characters, who are not at all two-dimensional. That doesn’t make the performances better, just more modern and more original. The stilted dialogue and the terrible acting is everywhere, like its competition. As for characters, I would have to say that Natalie Dormer is cuter than Nicole Kidman, but that’s debatable, I suppose.
There are several glory shots and bad transitions, giving me bad flashbacks to a screening of Le Mans (1971) starring Steve McQueen. They fiddle around when all we want to see is Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt race his new car. Still, when they finally get there, it is pretty exciting. I think the part where they move through several races all at once is original and moves fast.
The good thing about Days of Thunder is that the final race is covered almost in full, with drama here and there. It’s undoubtedly the highlight of the film, placed right at the end, true to formula. In Rush, James and Lauda compete throughout the season, so it’s basically the same formula, just done a little better. The first wet weather race featured in Rush is a highlight and I liked that part of the movie a lot, but wished they could have gotten there faster. They have two thrilling races, not one, which could be a negative, but I think they both work.
I actually wasn’t sure whose movie this was, as Niki Lauda played by Daniel Bruhl soaks up screentime from Hemsworth. In the end, Hemsworth succeeds as the champion, but only after being painted as a villain and a cheater. He even comes to respect his rival and treat him like an equal, unlike Cole in Days of Thunder. He is perhaps the most well-rounded arrogant racer on film.
At 122 minutes, Rush goes on for a long time. We’re literally waiting forever for the second wet race to get underway. There’s slow shots of the rain. There’s violins and oboes echoing slow music while engines rev. It’s friggin annoying how long it takes to get moving. Finally, the race gets underway and it gets to the drama quickly. Natalie Dormer disappears by the end, but the movie rises above simple, immature storytelling and I didn’t really miss her. Much.
I think it is Rush (2013) that wins this battle, but it’s a close one. Obviously, both films have weaknesses. Rush drags on with its transitions and Days of Thunder plays it by the numbers all-day. The one amazing thing that Rush does is show all its characters as two-dimensional, even the stars, where Hemsworth comes the closest to being a villain. Lauda is maybe the most sympathetic racer ever and shows true character, even in comparison to his rival. The tone helps support its characters, especially Lauda. The tone in Days of Thunder doesn’t do much of anything except make us wonder if Tom Cruise will ever fly a plane again.