Two small town Texas cops go undercover to catch a major drug dealer and are sucked into the drug culture, compromising their assignment.
I like to believe that dramas and thrillers that tackle big topics like politics, crime, human trafficking or the intricacies of drug enforcement are genuinely well meaning. I don't think anyone truly sets out to make a mediocre movie or a boring thriller, but somehow the elements of a production don't line up and that's how things turn out. With 1991's 'Rush' starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Sam Elliot, an earnest police procedural just wound up becoming an R rated after school special about the perils of drug addiction.
In a small Texas town, drug related crimes are skyrocketing. At the head of the problem is a shadowy figure known as Gaines (Gregg Allman). Everyone in town knows he's the guy distributing the stuff on the streets - but knowing it and proving it are two different things. Inspector Dodd (Sam Elliott) brings in his best undercover narcotics officer Raynor (Jason Patric), a man so engrained in the drug scene it's hard to know which side of the law he's on anymore. To ensure he gathers enough prosecutable evidence against Gaines, Raynor is going to need some fresh help he can trust.
New recruit Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has signed onto the police force to make a difference. When she's offered a chance to do some serious undercover work, she jumps into it blindly. Without much in the way of experience actually using drugs or witnessing how a buy goes down, it's up to Raynor to teach her. While Raynor is showing Cates the ropes, the two inadvertently become romantically entangled. Further complicating their mission to find evidence is the fact that as they make low level buys, the two officers become addicted to the stuff they intend to wipe off the streets. With their addiction risking the mission, Raynor and Cates must find a way to get off the junk and find waht they need to put Gaines behind bars - even if that means stretching the law.
As a kid I went through the D.A.R.E. program in school. One of the main criticisms of the program was the fact that it inadvertently glamorized drug use going so far as to show kids how various drugs are used, where they can be bought, while accidentally downplaying the side effects of addiction. 'Rush' feels like a cinematic version of the D.A.R.E. program. While Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh deliver some great performances, the film itself is entirely too preoccupied with showing the audience how drugs are bought, how to roll a joint, and how to cook and shoot up heroin for any real drama to rise to the surface. Written by Pete Dexter and directed by Lili Fini Zanuck - 'Rush' ends up becoming a more serious version of 'Reefer Madness.' It's well intentioned but fails to make it all the way to the finish line having been burdened with the arduous taks of carrying a heavy message.
Part of the problem with the film is that so much time is spent on "how to do this drug" that it sacrifices character development in the process. We never really get to know Jason Patric's Raynor beyond the cursory "he's an undercover cop that has been in the field for far too long." His best moments are when he tries to kick his addiction, but at the same time I can't help but remember how much better he was in 'Narc.' We never really get a sense of Jennifer Jason Leigh's Cates beyond "she's the new, young, impressionable police officer." Then you have Sam Elliot's Inspector Dodd who plays like a guy that had gone down Raynor's path years ago, got out and got himself a desk job. Elliot is supposed to be an anchor for our two officers, but so much time is spent with him absent from the screen it becomes very easy to forget he's even in the movie at all. After that you have Gregg Allman's Gaines as the villain who sits in a bar and doesn't do anything other than shake his head when Raynor asks to hook him up with drugs. He's not a very imposing bad guy and makes you wonder how he got to be the big bag guy in town in the first place.
At just over two hours, 'Rush' takes way to long to get from point A to point B. Had the material been treated with a little more urgency and immediacy, things might have turned out better. I understand the idea behind the setting of a small Texas town, but since you never get a sense of the town itself it's hard to feel why this little war on drugs is so important. What are the stakes? What are these undercover cops risking? Why are they doing what they're doing? Had these simple plot and character development beats been addressed fitfully, 'Rush' easily could have been an early 90s crime classic. Instead it's a mediocre movie with a good soundtrack by Eric Clapton.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Rush' makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line. Pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc and housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
As a film of the early 90s, 'Rush' make's its way to Blu-ray from a dated master with only so-so results. Overall I would say that this 1.85:1 1080p transfer is a notable upgrade over the DVD, it does however have some notable issues. This is a very crunchy looking transfer leading me to believe a bit of edge enhancement was employed during many scenes throughout the runtime. It looks like fine film grain has been retained leading to some pleasing detail levels. Colors are a bit drab and ill looking. That could be by intent but where things should appear bright and lively, they look pretty lifeless. Flesh tones also skew a bit pink through a lot of the movie as well. Black levels are all right if a tad underwhelming. While there is plenty of shadow separation and minimal crush instances, the film can look very flat at times. It's not a terrible presentation, but its issues stem from an obviously older master.
Scoring a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, 'Rush' gets some pretty high marks. All around the audio is just right. Given that this is a very dialogue heavy movie, you never once lose what is being said to background noise or the Eric Clapton score. Imaging has its place here and there, but so much of the movie takes place in quieter intimate locations that it's tough to detect andy notable channel movement. During the busier bar scenes sound effects and ambients feel nicely layered and natural keeping to the outer edges of the stereos allowing the dialogue to have firm footing front and center. Same for the court room scenes towards the end. All around a serviceable track that does the film justice.
Audio Commentary: Director Lili Fini Zanuck flys solo for this commentary. She keeps things engaging enough offering a good amount of detail and info about the production and it remains fairly scene specific.
Featurett: (SD 8:51) An older EPK feature from when the film was first released.
Tears In Heaven Music Video: (SD 4:43) It's Clapton acoustic, you can't really go wrong here.
Original Theatrical trailer: (HD 2:20) This trailer does a decent enough job selling the movie, but it also kind of exposes how thin the main plot of the movie is.
Some movies just do not age very well in twenty four years. 'Rush' was one of those movies I distinctly remember coming to theaters, not making many waves, and then getting shuffled off to video tape. I only vaguely remember watching this on cable years and years go. It was never one of my favorites so I had hoped that some time and maturity would improve my outlook towards the final product but in the end it makes the film's story structure and character issues that much more noticeable. At least the Clapton music is still good! With an okay HD image, a strong audio track and a smattering of decent informative extras, fans of this flick should be pleased, so on that end I'm calling it as being worth a look.