Rat Race
Rat Race

USA/Canada, 2001. Rated PG-13. 125 minutes.

Cast: Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr, Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Amy Smart, Lanei Chapman, Vince Vieluf, Kathy Najimy, Wayne Knight, Dave Thomas, Paul Rodriguez
Writer: Andy Breckman
Music: John Powell; additional music by James McKee Smith
Cinematographer: Thomas E. Ackerman
Producers: Sean Daniel, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Director: Jerry Zucker


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

R at Race is an attempt to revive those classic chase comedies of the 1960s, movies like The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. In fact, Race Race is conceptually a remake of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a movie about a mad scramble by a dozen competitors to recover a stolen fortune. Billed by director Stanley Kramer as the comedy to end all comedies, It's a Mad Mad Mad World featured a comic superstar of the time in literally every role, even the smallest bit parts, and the great Spencer Tracy at the center of all the madness.

The cast of Rat Race isn't of quite the same caliber, but director Jerry Zucker (Ghost, Airplane!) has assembled a respectable lot. It includes Oscar™-winners Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Kathy Bates (in a cameo), as well as Saturday Night Live's Jon Lovitz, Monty Python alum John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean and Blackadder fame, Kathy Najimy (Sister Act, The Wedding Planner), Seth Green (Austin Powers 1 & 2), Seinfeld's Wayne Knight, and assorted other recognizable faces.

What brings all these luminaries together? Well, Cleese is a wealthy casino owner in Las Vegas who chooses six people at random to participate in a race for two million dollars. The first person to reach the money, located in a storage locker several hundred miles away in Silver City, New Mexico, gets to keep it. What's Cleese's angle? Unbeknownst to the participants, a group of high rollers is betting on the outcome.

The six teams of competitors line up as follows: 1) football referee Owen Templeton (Gooding), infamous for blowing a coin flip on national television, 2) Vera Baker (Goldberg) and her long-lost daughter (Lanei Chapman), 3) Mr. Pollini (Atkinson), a narcoleptic with a bizarre Atkinson-invented Italian-ish accent, 4) con artists and brothers Duane and Blaine Cody (Green and Vince Vieluf), 5) straight-arrow, risk-averse lawyer Nick Schaffer (Breckin Meyer) and helicopter pilot Tracy Faucet (Amy Smart), and 6) Randy Pear (Lovitz), a compulsive gambler on vacation with wife (Najimy) and children in tow.Gooding Jr. and a cross-dressing Lucy in a tight spot

Although they all think it is a hoax at first, this group of disparate characters soon shows a common willingness to do anything and everything to get to the money. What follows is a series of loosely connected farcical vignettes during which more competitors are drawn into the fray. As for the outcome--you already know what it is, because you know that Hollywood doesn't reward viciousness and greed. Well, except in movies like 3000 Miles to Graceland. But not in PG-13 comedies.

No matter. The outcome is by far the weakest part of the film, but it's not at all important. The important part is the journey. A movie like this works if it keeps the energy high and if it is able to surprise you--the success of a farce depends greatly on its capacity to surprise, because predictable gags aren't funny. Rat Race does both these things reasonably well. Zucker, who created the king of all spoofs in Airplane! (and many more), is after all, the master of the sight gag and the dumb joke.

It would be stupid to reveal too many farcical surprises in a review, but maybe just a couple: Gooding hijacking a busload of Lucille Ball impersonators headed to an I Love Lucy convention, Smart dive-bombing her cheating boyfriend's swimming pool in a helicopter with a terrified Meyer in the co-pilot's seat, the series of increasingly peculiar bets placed by Cleese and his band of high-rollers to pass the time while the race unfolds.

The energy does flag at times, and not all the jokes work, but, like Airplane!, Race Race keeps trying and trying, relentlessly moving from one preposterous situation to the next until it wears you down to the point that you can't help but chuckle. In ice hockey, they keep track of "shots on goal," or attempts made to score. The more opportunities you have to score, the greater the likelihood you will. Rat Race hews closely to that theory, and so it does succeed. It's not It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but it's mad enough.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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