Drugs are bad.
That's more or less the only thing Lili Fini Zanuck's gritty cop drama Rush has to say, despite its two-hour running time and an abundance of subplots. The film is very much a product of the “Just Say No” generation, fusing cop movie and addiction drama cliches with after school special earnestness.
Jim Raynor (Jason Patric, Speed 2: Cruise Control) is a veteran undercover cop getting ready for his next assignment. However, his superior Lt. Dodd (Sam Elliott, The Big Lebowski) has insisted that he pick a young police academy graduate as his new partner. Jim chooses Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hudsucker Proxy), the only woman from the latest class of graduates. Right away, they're thrown headfirst into a dangerous mission: taking down local drug lord Will Gaines (Greg Allman... yes, that Greg Allman).
Infiltrating Gaines' organization means that both officers will need to appear to be drug users themselves. Cates has been trained on how to fake drug use, but Raynor insists that such tactics will get them both killed. They're going to have to take real drugs, and they're going to have to help each other deal with the inevitable side effects. Unfortunately, those side effects might be stronger than they are.
Rush is clearly far less interested in its actual plot than in the drugs at the center of that plot: what they are, how they're prepared, how they work and what the consequences of taking them are. An almost comically large portion of the film's running time is spent detailing precisely how various drugs are supposed to be used, with lots of dramatic close-ups of needles being plunged into arms (no special effects required, as Patric gamely decided to shoot up with saline and vitamins). It devotes even more time to melodramatically detailing the consequences of taking those drugs, as our characters tremble, throw things and hold each other while Eric Clapton's guitar wails on the soundtrack (Clapton's bluesy riffs worked wonderfully in Lethal Weapon, but here... not so much).
The film's anti-drug messages are clearly well-intentioned, but the film's obsession with them frequently leads to everything else getting short-changed. Pretty much all of the characters here are one-note types: the seen-it-all veteran cop, the wide-eyed rookie, the sensible authority figure, the seedy henchmen, the desperate junkies. I'm not even sure that Greg Allman's Big Bad even gets a single note, as the character mostly just stands around and looks vaguely unhappy about something.
Mostly, the film is simply bland, with many scenes feeling curiously flat and the more sensational moments often tipping over into unintentional silliness. Perhaps the film's biggest failing is that it never really gives us much of a sense of why any of what we're watching is important. In what ways has Gaines negatively impacted the town? What's at stake here, exactly? Why are these two cops willing to push themselves to such extremes in order to complete their mission? It doesn't matter. Drugs are bad.
At this point, the film's biggest claim to fame is probably that it features Clapton's original song “Tears in Heaven.” Clapton wrote the song for the film, but his real inspiration was the death of his four-year-old son. It's a simple, powerful, emotionally direct tune that still ranks as one of the signature compositions of Clapton's career (it even won “Song of the Year” at the 1993 Grammys). It's a terrific piece of art that transcends the forgettable piece of art it technically belongs to.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Year: 1991