January 13, 1992 12:00 PM

Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh

There’s a moment of relief about two thirds of the way through Rush, when director Lili Fini Zanuck flicks her camera away from the dark, drug-filled honky-tonks of the Texas oil coast and onto a construction site in a sunny middle-class suburb. It’s akin to the calculated release that a light-hearted commercial provides during a made-for-TV movie in which everyone suffers from inoperable cancer.

But here the inoperable cancer is at work both in the sunlight and in the darkened dives; it is the rush of hard drugs, destined to destroy petty junkies, dealers and cops with equally malign indifference. Patric and Leigh play undercover narcs who, as they set their sights on a suspected local drug kingpin (played to a menacing turn by Gregg Allman), must buy illegal drugs and sometimes “fix up” themselves in order to win the confidence of the very dealers they’re trying to derail.

It’s a deadly game preordained to produce no winners. That’s the point former undercover cop Kim Wozen-craft made in her 1990 autobiographical book, which is underscored here by Zanuck and cast. Patric defines the narc’s skewered sense of obligation when he tells Leigh, “If somebody shoots your partner, you don’t wait for the lawyers to sort things out.” He and Leigh are painfully effective as they slide down into the pit of drug abuse. With a first-rate screenplay by Pete Dexter, Rush carries us, faintheadedly, through a nightmare world that scarcely seems to be on the same planet as our own, a world ugly as sin—and just as fascinating. (R)

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