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The following is an open letter to Ron Howard.

Dear Opie:

This isn't a movie review of a sports story so much as it's a sports review of a movie story.

Let me explain.

I saw your new movie, "Rush," about Formula One auto racing, specifically the competition for the 1976 world championship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, won by Hunt, amazingly, by a single point. Pretty good film, as far as it goes, and it's sure to be a nationwide hit, especially in Mayberry, although the preference there likely would have been stock cars and good ol' boys instead of open-wheel machines and decadent foreigners.

"Rush" has a polished, authentic look and feel, the acting is first rate, the action frenetically edited, and it tells a compelling story.

So far, so good.

But in your movie, it's astonishing that Hunt, the pedal-to-the-metal British challenger, can climb into his 490-horsepower McLaren, let alone race it at 180 mph, what with his 24/7 sex-booze-and-drugs party-hearty mentality. In your movie, Lauda, the defending champion, is a myopic, humorless Spartan Aryan control freak who believes personal happiness is his enemy. OK, I get it. Strong opposite characters often drive drama (pun intended), and yours isn't the first movie to exaggerate real-life personalities for the sake of cinematic art.

But in your movie, Hunt and Lauda aren't human so much as cartoon prima donnas who hate each other, almost from the first scene, simply because their lifestyles are different. I guess you thought they had to hate each other. Otherwise, what would you have been left with? A travelogue about two guys racing really loud, really fast cars.

The authentic drama of the 1976 Formula One season was in Lauda's horrific accident in which he suffered permanent burn damage to his body and face, his heroic return to racing six weeks later, and Hunt's winning that year's F1 championship by one point, aided by Lauda quitting the final race for safety concerns during a torrential rainstorm.

All of that, of course, is featured in your movie, but entirely in the service of the nonstop, juvenile, artificially enhanced and ultimately tiresome personal antagonism between Hunt and Lauda.

It's reminiscent of the fake personal rivalry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno in George Butler's influential bodybuilding movie "Pumping Iron" from 1977. Maybe you were among those influenced.

In reality, Hunt and Lauda were friends, or certainly friendly, likely drawn to each other precisely because of their vastly different personalities. While they labored in open wheel's minor leagues, they even shared an apartment.

And while conflicts might have emerged in the pivotal year that the movie dramatizes, by most accounts (including the definitive "In the Name of Glory: 1976, the Greatest Ever Sporting Duel" by Tom Rubython) Hunt and Lauda apparently had nothing but the highest professional respect for each other. A better movie might have been about Lauda's extraordinary career which, after the near-fatal accident and heartbreaking one-point loss to Hunt, included two more world championships, seven years apart.

The thing is, Opie, this isn't the first time you've distorted sports history.

In 2005, you made a film called "Cinderella Man." It was about Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock, who beat long odds in and out of the ring to win the heavyweight championship.

In your movie, Braddock's victory against Max Baer in the title fight is a rollicking, rock 'em, sock 'em brawl, not quite Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed but close, with the sweetly virtuous Braddock emerging with a bloody, hard-earned decision against the ultra-vicious Baer. Why did Braddock and Baer have to be exaggerated? Apparently for no other reason than to jazz up your movie. Otherwise, it would have been about two mediocrities briefly keeping the heavyweight title warm until Joe Louis came along.

In reality, the Braddock-Baer fight had precious little action. Accounts of the time describe the fight as desultory, at best, with Braddock, a quintessential journeyman, dutifully plodding ahead, and Baer dissipated and mostly disinterested. A better movie might have been about another Depression-era fighter, Billy Conn, who came oh-so-close to beating Braddock's successor, the great Louis, until hubris, and a left hook from the Brown Bomber, caught up with him.

But, hey, it's just Hollywood, right? Is there harm in distortion disguised as artistic license?

Well, the answer, according to those of us who love movies (including many of yours, Opie) but also are sticklers for the accurate depiction of sports history, is: Yes.

Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.