Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
"Rat Race," a return to zany, comedic territory for director Jerry Zucker
(1980's "Airplane!") after a decade-long bout with serious drama (1990's
"Ghost," 1995's "First Knight"), is just the type of movie that never, or
rarely, gets made today. Inspired by 1963's "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"
and bearing certain similarities with 1980's "The Cannonball Run" and 1983's
"National Lampoon's Vacation," "Rat Race" wastes no time with
character-defining moments and rising sentimentality, because it makes no
room for it. From the delirious opening credits sequence, in which the
actors' heads are placed on cartoon bodies, to almost the very end, director
Zucker and screenwriter Andrew Breckman pile on one sight gag or elaborate
comic setpiece after the next, only to further punctuate how intentionally
loony and unabashedly fun this movie is.
The setup is simple. At a Las Vegas casino, six people/groups are chosen at
random by wealthy entrepreneur Donald Sinclair (John Cleese), and given a
proposal that seems too good to be true. Seven-hundred miles away at a train
station in Silver City, New Mexico lies a bundle filled with $2-million in
cash. Located in locker #001, each group is given a single key that enables
them to open it. The first one to successfully reach the locker gets the
entirety of the cash, no strings attached. Sounds simple, but in true
farcical fashion, every mishap that could ever possibly occur does.
The participants are young lawyer Nick Shaffer (Breckin Meyer), who hitches a
ride from cute helicopter pilot Tracy Faucet (Amy Smart); Vera Baker (Whoopi
Goldberg) and the now-grown daughter she has just been reunited with, Merrill
Jennings (Lanei Chapman); just-fired NFL referee Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding
Jr.); goofy, narcoleptic Italian Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson); dim-witted
brothers Duane (Seth Green) and Blaine Cody (Vince Vieluf); and Home Depot
employee Randy Pear (Jon Lovitz), with his chaotic wife (Kathy Najimy) and
children (Brody Smith, Jillian Marie) in tow.
Written, directed, and acted by people who look to be genuinely enjoying
themselves, "Rat Race" is, bar none, the funniest film of the summer.
Inventive to the point of constant delight, the comedy comes so fast and
furious that, at times, it is difficult to catch your breath from laughing so
hard. And whenever you aren't in a state of hysteria, the sheer joyfulness of
the whole enterprise leaves a smile plastered dumbly on your face.
The key to great visual comedy comes from setting up one uproarious joke,
only to lead it to another that makes the situation all the more
rib-tickling. Screenwriter Breckman, along with director Zucker, keenly
understands this necessity and uses it to its best advantage. Because "Rat
Race" relies on the surprises it has in store for the audience at all times,
it would be a disservice to give any of it away. Suffice to say, a runaway
heart, an unfortunate cow, a run-in with the psychotic Squirrel Lady (Kathy
Bates), a bus for of "I Love Lucy" fan club members, and a museum of Adolf
Hitler memorabilia, all figure in to the story.
There are no characters or performances that stand out from the pack because
each one of the individual ensemble storylines is like a tour de force
mini-comedy that has been strung together by a simple, yet effective,
premise. Every main actor has about equal the screen time as everyone else,
and each of them get ample chance to not only shine, but to show off their
comedic skills. It is nice to see the underrated Whoopi Goldberg, however,
get an opportunity to once again do what she does best after a string of
wasted roles (2001's "Monkeybone," 2000's "The Adventures of Rocky &
If "Rat Race" is able to maintain its insanely high level of energy
throughout, the conclusion could have admittedly been stronger. Going about
ten minutes longer than it needed to, the way in which it deals with the
winner(s) deciding what to do with the money is slightly disappointing,
considering everything that had come before. An entertaining end-credits
stage sequence recoups the film's brief lag with the cast performing the hit
song, "All Star," with rock group Smash Mouth.
Movies like "Rat Race" come around once in a blue moon. Not reliant on solely
bathroom humor, and with a roughly twice-per-minute laugh ratio, the film
moves at a clip pace that makes every moment all the more delightful. While
not deep, meaningful, or life-changing, "Rat Race" plays like a brilliantly
hilarious 113-minute joke that you can't, no matter what, get out of your
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman