If you’re good-looking enough, there’s a certain outre glamour to being totally out of it. Jason Patric, playing an undercover narcotics officer who drifts in and out of heroin addiction, has this negative bohemian bloom to the max in Rush. Patric sports long hair and a bushy black beard, and his clear blue eyes, peeking out from beneath dark, depressive brows, give him a piquant, long-suffering look. He’s James Dean as a junkie Christ — a guy who takes dope to numb his sensitivity, and who becomes a martyr when the action gets too heavy. Set in 1975, and based on Kim Wozencraft’s autobiographical pulp novel about her experiences working as a narc in Pasadena, Tex., Rush unfolds within the lowest echelons of the drug world. It’s about the small-time dealers who sell a bag or two at a time and the agents who trap them by scoring and collecting the evidence in manila envelopes. Is it any wonder a lot of these officers become addicts themselves? Essentially, their jobs are pointless. If they catch one penny-ante dealer, a dozen more are waiting to step in. In Rush, Patric gets a new partner, a naive but quietly adventurous rookie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who becomes his lover and fellow user.
Directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, the Oscar-winning coproducer of Driving Miss Daisy (it’s her first time behind the camera), Rush has a raw surface authenticity. But that’s about all it has. Zanuck never really takes us inside the drug experience — admittedly, a difficult thing for a movie to do. Though Patric and Leigh are convincing as small-town cops living a step from the edge of criminality, they never really become distinctive characters. Leigh, who in recent years has turned into the Meryl Streep of bimbos, registers less here than she does in most of her supporting roles. She seems earnest and withdrawn, a woman of bland inexperience. Patric, at least, has his wasted- angel aura, but in this role he’s too serenely self-involved to connect with the audience, or with Leigh.
Rush could have used some of the surreal dilapidation of Andy Warhol’s Trash, or even the jagged comedy that made life in the pharmaceutical lane seem so subversive and exhilarating in Drugstore Cowboy. Patric and Leigh are supposed to be setting up a case against a hippie crime lord (played by the amusingly surly Gregg Allman), but not much gets done. They spend most of their time staring into space, rummaging through the carpet when their stash gets low, and enduring the inevitable fits of paranoia. The movie’s most exciting presence is Max Perlich, the gopher-toothed neighbor from Drugstore Cowboy, who appears here as a squirmy, spaced-out snitch. When he’s on-screen, the dope life seems freakish and urgent instead of merely enervated. B-