Generic and meaningless 'Rush' suffers from case of listlessness

January 10, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Rush" represents a collaboration between a first-time director, a first-time screenwriter and a first novelist. Everybody tries hard, but the results are about what the credentials might suggest: an unoriginal amateur hour.

Derived from a semi-autobiographical novel by Kim Wozencraft by novelist-turned-tyro-screenwriter Pete Dexter, the movie chronicles the decent into hell of a boy-girl team of small-city Texas narcs, whose risky business requires that they imbibe the substances whose circulation they are trying to control. Boasting that they can "walk away from it any time," they instead sink through the layers of shame and degradation that are the inevitable consequence of drug usage, and end up touching absolute bottom: They violate their most sacred trust by injecting and sniffing their own evidence in an epic toot of a weekend. Why did they think it's called dope?

As a study of drug addiction, "Rush" is pretty chilling, though it doesn't exactly break new ground. As a cautionary tale, an artistically limited genre at best, it's first class, certainly a rung up the ladder from all those hopelessly square don't-do-drugs public service ads.

But as a drama, the movie is a mess. It has no sense of urgency, no propelling plot, no accumulation of incident and character. In fact, there's no meaningful overall caper to hold the piece together: it's strictly a day-in-the-life exercise that ambles through the weeks and months, listless as a hangover. The director, Lili Fini Zanuck, has a good sense of milieu -- the cracker bars, the dusty back roads, the scabby cowboy junkies high on greed, ambition and amphetamines -- but no narrative gift whatsoever. The movie drifts, under the presumption that watching Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh surrender their humanity to chemicals is spectacle enough to sustain it.

Patric gets the flashy role of Raynor, who selects new partner Kristi (Leigh) and leads her to hell and not back. Patric has attracted a lot of attention because the role is so full of pyrotechnics: He gets to snarl and act tough, he gets to do an extended workshop on addiction and withdrawal, complete to such favorites as the D.T.'s, the shakes, the shudders, the sweats, the blue screaming-meanies and the thousand-yard stares.

But it's all generic: Any third year drama student at Towson State could do as well with such broad categories. It's in the detail work where he's got to bring the character to life, and that's where Patric fails so utterly, unguided by his director. We know absolutely nothing more about Raynor at the end of the movie than at the beginning; it's as if we've been watching empty actor's exercises.

Leigh has a somewhat more humanly scaled role as the rookie, who never quite abandons herself. Leigh brings a gritty tenderness to her role, as she has to so many of the outcast women she seems to specialize in. But again, one never learns a lot about Kristi, except that being a junkie means never having a nice day.

The ever dependable Sam Elliott is ever dependable as Leigh and Patric's supervisor. But a curiosity is the bossman drug dealer of the town, played by a surly, tattooed Greg Allman. He looks mean as a snake but Dexter and Zanuck forgot to invent a personality for him; he's a presence but not a character and so the evil he purportedly represents has no weight at all.

"Rush" acquires some life whenever conflict breaks out -- drug deals gone wrong, squabbles over payments, a gambit to turn a small-time dealer into a snitch -- but in the main it's in no rush at all. If it were an employee, you'd fire it for sluggishness.

'Rush'

Starring Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Directed by Lili Fini Zanuck.

Released by Twentieth Century Fox.

Rated R.

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