Rat Race
review by Elias Savada, 17 August 2001

At the end of April, Paramount Pictures arranged a screening of Rat Race in Northern Virginia for area film critics. What little laughter that work print presentation generated obviously was exacerbated by so few bodies in such a large auditorium. By the time the farce ended I already had my tagline: "It's a bad, bad, bad, bad world," reflecting how poorly this blatantly crude rip-off of Stanley Kramer's similarly themed 1963 mad super-comedy sat in the pit of my stomach. Honoring my commitment to review the finished product, I trudged back to a preview a few weeks back. Lo and behold, there was still a bitter taste, despite the addition of a splashy title sequence, more background scoring, and a release version with better color timing.

Oh, yes, and a large amount of unforeseen laughter from the overflow crowd, eager for heapings of dim-witted slapschtick. Was I watching the same film as everyone else? Yup. Did I need to dumb down my sophisticated expectations to tickle my funny bone with some of the lowbrow antics up on the screen? I guess so, not that I (generally) see a lot of humor in horror-stricken cows dangled from hot air balloons. The end result after the second helping of Rat Race was that I became conflicted on how to approach Jerry Zucker's stupid new all-star comedy. Can I balance the talented creative force behind Airplane, the Naked Gun films, and Ghost with the romantic excesses of his First Knight and A Walk in the Clouds? Can you?

The answer is no. I still don't like this mixed bag of Cannonball Run, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but I'm willing to admit it might be just the right silly serum to help you forget your impending job layoff from Ford, a flooded basement from last week's torrential downpours here in DC, or that annoying summer cold following you around. Zucker and his writer Andy Breckman (a Late Night with David Letterman alum responsible for the unfunny big screen adaptation of the 1950s TV classic Sgt. Bilko) throw hundreds of offensive stunts, expendable double-takes, and analogous kitchen sinks at you in Rat Race. They force you to follow the outrageous road trip antics of six social castoffs, randomly selected by egocentric Vegas casino mogul Donald Sinclair (Fawlty Towers' John Cleese), to appease the greedy appetites of his zealous band of high rollers, handicapping the action from via two-way mirrors and remote tracking devices. As the assorted rag-tag teams of affiliated families, partners, and other hangers-on coagulate on their way to $2 million in a train station locker in Silver City, New Mexico, all manner of mayhem and muck are attracted to the contestants.

Ultimately you're left rooting that these none of these dregs of society wins and that the more light-hearted tragedy that befalls them, the better. Among the challengers?

Snobby and bitter executive Merrill Jennings (Lanai "Attitude" Chapman) has just been reunited with her overly sentimental birth mother Vera Baker  (Whoopi "Cushion" Goldberg) after twenty-seven years. They meet their match with a roadside squirrel peddler (Kathy "Misery Awaits You" Bates) who provides brief cameodic relief.

Disgraced NFL referee Owen Templeton (Cuba "Show Me the Money" Gooding, Jr.) bemoans a notoriously bad coin toss call that makes him the target of a vengeful cab driver (Paul "You Lost All My Money" Rodriguez). His various cross-gender misidentifications follow him to a busload of Lucy imitators bound for Santa Fe (If you want to honor the Queen of Comedy, buy a few sheets of her new commemorative stamps instead of forking over lunch money for this hemorrhage of a comedy).

Apprehensive lawyer Nick Shaffer (Brecklin "What, Another Road Trip?" Meyer) bypasses a return flight to Chicago when he falls for drippy Tracy Faucet (Amy "What, Another Road Trip?" Smart), a flying ace with a boyfriend and a few marbles loose. She offers the mutual Charles "How the Heck Did My Name Get Mixed Up in this Movie" Lindbergh fan a lift to Roswell. People don't kill people. Helicopters kill people.

Duane and Blaine Cody are mischievous misfits, brothers and Ying/Yuck partners in imbecilic liability claim scams. And able to climb radar towers with a single Ford Bronco. Seth "Mad Cow" Green is partnered with Vince "Why Can't I Get Top Billing?" Vieluf, the doofus deputy in Clay Pigeons gets a metal accoutrement embedded in his tongue as part of the unintelligible character that mumbles and stumbles about the Southwestern landscape.

Jon "Hey, I'm Funny!" Lovitz and Kathy "Hey, I've Lost Weight!" Najimy are part of the vacationing rotten Pear family from Hell who find themselves visiting a (Klaus) Barbie museum on the road to mis-fortune. The get-rich-quick patriarch ends up packing his wife and kids into Hitler's touring car for most of the subsequent journey.

Wide-eyed Rowan "Able to Malaprop in Any Language" Atkinson spins his Mr. Bean character into Enrico Pollini, a narcoleptic Italian who shares a plate of cheer with Zack (Wayne "I'm Still Big" Knight), a slacker/ambulance driver transporting an ice-packed donor heart. Trouble is unleashed when he suggests his passenger take a peek at the organ.

Rat Race is a sucker punch. Zucker and his team gather together a ton of talent, toss it around, and chuck it at the screen. Some of it falls off, a giggle her, a moan there. Much like the poop bit wherein Jon Lovitz's Randy Pear forces his daughter to "do it" out the side of the family van. Cut to the next shot of a highway patrolman writing him a ticket (defamation of character?) while his partner is cleaning the patrol car's windshield. The film's frantic pace belies a lack of filmmaking talent in this patchwork effort. With the hundreds of gags hurled at you, you'll laugh at more or less of them depending on which side of the bed you woke up on. Rat Race tumbled out of the wrong side for me.


Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' interview.

Directed by:
Jerry Zucker

Starring:
Rowan Atkinson
John Cleese
Whoopi Goldberg
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Seth Green
Jon Lovitz
Breckin Meyer
Kathy Najimy
Amy Smart

Written by:
Andy Breckman

Rated:
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material
may not be suitable
for children.

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