Director: Jerry Zucker
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Lanei Chapman, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Wayne Knight, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Amy Smart, Dave Thomas, Vince Vieluf
MPAA Rating: (for sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity and language)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 8/17/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Itís been over twenty years now since Airplane!, that groundbreaking and absolutely hilarious gag-a-minute spoof first arrived in theaters. I mention that fact simply because Rat Race is directed by Jerry Zucker the same man who directed Airplane!, and itís a sad day when a man capable of such perfectly insane comic timing cannot properly pace a simple Itís a Mad Mad Mad Mad World rehash. You would think that Zucker would be the right man to helm a manic comedy, and when it actually does get going, Rat Race has its moments. Unfortunately, though, it turns into a mess of poor pacing and editingónot to mention too many gags that fall flat on their faces.
Even though no one involved with Mad Mad Mad Mad World is credited in Rat Race, the similarities are obvious. In Las Vegas, Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) owns a casino and is quite bored with typical gambling. So heís decided to set up a race, and the winner will find two million dollars in a locker. The contestants are chosen by whoever wins a special coin at the slot machines. There are six teams chosen. The first is comprised of the Cody brothers (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf), both con artists, one with a newly pierced tongue. The next team is an estranged mother/daughter team, played by Whoopi Goldberg and Lanei Chapman. The next contestant is a universally hated referee, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., who made a bad call on the coin toss. A family on vacation, with Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy as the husband and wife, makes up the fourth team. The fifth contestant is a narcoleptic foreign tourist (Rowan Atkinson, of "Mr. Bean" fame). The final team consists of a by-the-book law student (Breckin Meyer) and a helicopter pilot (Amy Smart) whom he meets.
The initial problem with the movie is its exposition. With six teams to introduce, you would think each individual introduction scene would be short and to the point. Unfortunately, the exposition runs far too long, and the jokes for each individual or group are far too weak to keep it interesting. Once it picks up, the gags find both ends of the laugh spectrum. There is only one that really made me laugh a lot. It involves Jon Lovitz, Hitlerís car, a conveniently placed black line over his upper lip, and a group of World War II vets. Yes, itís completely tasteless, but it is well-timed and perfectly executed. The only other one that is memorably funny involves the brothers and a radar tower. All the rest are at worst sad and at best forgettable.
Another big problem is that the movie spends too much time with each team. There are too many people here to develop each scene properly, but the script tries to anyway. Eventually, we forget about characters. For example, Atkinsonís tourist falls asleep once the race starts, and he is left out of the picture for far too long. His character probably has the most comedic potential, but once he appears again, heís left to do a very unfunny gag about a donated heart with Wayne Knight of "Seinfeld" fame. All of the actors here are manic enough; itís not their fault. This material is just too choppily edited.
Yes, Rat Race made me laugh a few times, made me smile slightly more, but never enough. I liked the way the result of the race doesnít exclude anyone, and it actually has a nice little message to it. I liked the way that Cleeseís magnate tries to start bets on every little thing. There are a lot of tiny moments, but material like this needs absolute momentum. This oneís still waiting on the runway.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.