The Film: Rush (1991)

The Principals: Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sam Elliott,  Gregg Allman, Lili Fini Zanuck (director), Eric Clapton (music)

The Premise:
Jim Raynor (Patric) is an undercover narcotics agent in need of a new partner.   After watching the perky Kristen Cates (Leigh) beat out all the boys in a track race, he selects her, and takes her deep undercover with him to bust a major drug ring. Along the way, they fall in love, and shoot and snort up massive amounts of heroin and coke. Will these reluctant drug addicts be able to kick the habit and rejoin good and wholesome society?  Will they be outed as cops despite their bruise-riddled arms?  Will Sam Elliott and Gregg Allman throw down to the tune of some mighty Eric Clapton riffs?

Is It Good: It is, actually. Sure, Rush is admittedly predictable. You can count the emotional beats. You know when the inevitable sliding-down-wall-while-staring-wildly scene will be. You know precisely what will happen to secondary characters, and the ending is loudly broadcast numerous times through dialogue.  But it’s anchored by strong performances from Patric and Leigh.  Patric is like a darker, scruffier Martin Riggs — it’s like what the chirpy Lethal Weapon cop would be like had he continued working narcotics in Long Beach. (Remember how coolly he tasted that Christmas tree cocaine?) Leigh is sweet and admirable in her druggy determination, though she never quite reaches the greasy depths her partner (and the film) asks her to.   Honestly, they make a really pathetic pair of addicts. At one point, Leigh is scrabbling around their shag carpet for uppers while wearing flannel bunny pajamas.  They’re trying so hard to retain their hold on normal life — cuddly jammies! cleanliness!  — and yet losing it altogether. 

Rush also has a really solid atmosphere, admirable in the care it takes care to paint a smalltown seediness. This isn’t the wretched big city drug culture of Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. There are no addicts wasting prettily away on couches or offering to blow Patric for some of his stash.  Rush is all dive bars, dusty parking lots, greasy speed dealers, and overall-wearing rednecks cooking up stuff in their kitchen. It’s a oddly refreshing look at the drug trade.  Most movies fall for the lure of the hunt in the big city instead of sweaty western and southern towns where weedy boys in cowboy hats do brisk trade over Budweisers.

I also like that it just happens to be set in 1975. The script doesn’t feel the need to loudly broadcast the date via pop culture references. If it wasn’t for the cut of the pants, the loosey-goosey policing, and the cars, you’d hardly even know.   But it’s also the ’90s by way of the ’70s, since Leigh being a female cop is a curious non-issue.  It’s 1975 in small town Texas! We saw how female detectives were treated in The Enforcer in liberal San Fransisco. It’s hard to believe Sam Elliott would hand her over to Patric so easily.

Is It Worth a Look: Sure, because Mr. Beaks (the Mr. Beaks) recommended it to me after I criticized Patric in The Losers.   He said something like “You should watch Rush to be reminded of why we loved Jason Patric,” and he’s totally right. This is Patric at his brooding, ragged, beautiful best.  The Lost Boys alone is a good lament for his cinematic career, but combine his performances in Rush with Sleepers and you have a guy who really should be a major contender alongside George Clooney and Josh Brolin.

Random Anecdotes:  Rush is actually based on the true story of the Tyler, Texas drug scandal, so maybe knowing it’s true won’t make it seem as cliche. (And maybe being a female cop in small-town Texas really was no big deal!) Tom Cruise and Jodie Foster were once tapped to play the leads, but Tom Cruise turned it down because he didn’t want to do drugs onscreen. Whether that was due to his squeaky clean image or Scientology, I have no idea.