Universal Studios
Chris Hemsworth, left, as the charismatic Englishman James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as disciplined Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda in "Rush."

I was just a kid when I first became acquainted with Formula 1 racing while watching "Grand Prix" with James Garner and Yves Montand in full-blown Cinerama at the legendary Villa Theater. And, I was on the front row.

Now, Formula 1 racing is back on the big screen in Ron Howard’s “Rush.” While not in Cinerama (and I was not on the front row for the screening), this new film carries all the thrills I remembered with a much more meaningful plot based on two real, legendary drivers.

And this time, newer cinematic technologies make the ride even more interesting and even take us inside the almost 700 horsepower engine.

“Rush” takes us back to the racing world of the 1970s, when fans were riveted by the skills and radically different personalities of James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Chris Hemsworth steps into the role of Hunt and Daniel Bruhl is Lauda. Other than the fact that they are both gifted drivers, they couldn’t be more different.

This week I had the opportunity to talk to Mario Andretti. And while he hasn’t seen the film, he did offer insights and opinions on his fellow drivers. He told me Lauda was a very bright, mechanical driver who calculated everything.

He described Hunt as the definition of a “free spirit,” someone who could show up at a reception with the queen wearing a tuxedo with bare feet and get away with it.

So far, his descriptions matched the movie. He described the deplorable conditions at the all-important race in Japan and again it matched what you’ll see in the movie. But Andretti’s account of how the decision was made that led to the race proceeding, despite the pelting rain, differed significantly from what I saw on the big screen. Most significant, however, he downplayed the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda. That’s huge since it’s a lynchpin in the plot.

“Rush” is all about the rivalry that, in the movie, fuels everything. The rivalry pushes each driver to not only excel and push every envelope; it is one of the prime inspirations for Lauda to recover and get back on the track after a horrific crash that leaves him at death’s door with disfiguring burns. The rivalry is everything.

Accounts of the time indicate it may have been more fan-driven. Regardless, it makes for compelling viewing that makes this a strangely inspirational film.

The performances are simply amazing. Bruhl and Hemsworth seem to mystically channel their characters, an impression completely validated when I saw the actual footage of these great drivers in the closing credits. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara star as the wives of these two very difficult men and to say they both had their challenges is an incredible understatement. But both actresses turn in great performances.

As I mentioned earlier, the movie magic of today puts you not only on the track, in the cockpit, but in the engine's cylinders. It borders on cheesy at times … but really, it’s kinda cool.

I’m giving "Rush" 3½ stars, and it's rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use.