Rat Race (2001) – A Review
A wacky eccentric billionaire offers seven random people the chance to win $2 million dollars. All they have to do is travel from Las Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico, get to a storage locker containing the loot and bam they keep the prize! The rules? There are none. They just have to beat their fellow competitors to the bag and it’s theirs.
Let the mayhem begin!
Rat Race is such a blatant update of the epic comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World it’s almost shameful. I guess they didn’t have the rights to do an official remake, so director David Zucker does the next closest thing. He packs the screen with a plethora of actors whereupon they all run into madcap misadventures traversing the desert locations by any means of travel they can manage and get into zanier and zanier situations. It’s a comedy of escalating errors in the same vein as the ’63 film.
And it’s a pretty weak comedy. If the ’63 movie had four ‘Mad’s’ in the title to represent the laughs it contained this one barely manages one, soft whisper of a ‘mad’.
The movie is basically a series of vignettes with the cast of actors moving from one wacky predicament to another. They’re supposed to be funny, but they’re not.
Most of the time I was just shaking my head at it all. This is the kind of movie where about 95% of the reactions and payoffs to the jokes are the actors opening up their mouths really wide and screaming.
The cast includes Breckin Meyer, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Lovitz, Rowan Atkinson, Lanei Chapman, Dave Thomas, Kathy Najimy, Amy Smart, Wayne Knight and John Cleese. None of them do anything funny in this. This is not the calvacade of comedy greats that It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had. This is like the 2001 bargain basement version. And it plays exactly like that.
The gags are poorly set up, predictable, stiff, uninventive, awkward and unfunny. Also for a movie that is meant to be such a fast-paced comedy it drags an awful lot. Some scenes feel like they’re going on way, way too long. I expected more coming from Zucker based on his history with the comedies Airplane!, Top Secret! and Naked Gun. Those flicks had a barrage of laughs where you were just catching your breath from one joke before another one was already getting thrown at you.
Here, they try to milk the terrible jokes as much as they can. It’s as if the film thinks seeing more closeups of people screaming loud will make it all funnier.
The comedy consists of stuff like, Goooding running around in his underwear. Atkinson and Knight looking for a lost transplant heart. A cow being carried off by a hot air balloon. Goldberg and Chapman riding a rocket car that breaks the sound barrier. A busload of Lucille Ball look-a-likes. Smart flying a helicopter wildly after her cheating boyfriend.
It’s that kind of over-the-top stuff. Some of these ideas might have sounded much funnier on paper, but as it all plays it just becomes tired nonsense without any sparks. It was a pretty barren landscape looking for anything to make me laugh in this.
Some of Cleese’s scenes where he and his rich buddies are making wagers on random, bizarre things is ok. Green and his brother Vince Vieluf try to break an airport radar is a silly, but I thought was the best scene in the movie. Kathy Bates’ cameo and the punchline of ‘you should’ve bought a squirrel’ is as clever as anything the movie has. And I thought the theme song was an enjoyable toe tapper. But sitting through the rest of the runtime of Rat Race was a real chore.
I’ll give the movie credit for being a relatively clean, family-friendly, silly comedy. I can’t remember one fart joke or curse in it. There’s one topless joke shot from the woman’s back, but that seems rather quaint today.
So I suppose Rat Race would be ok for kids. Especially in comparison to most of the comedies we see nowadays. Although I doubt they’d get the Hitler jokes – not that they’re very funny anyway. But I can see little kids laughing at Green getting slammed into the sides of cows. I probably would have thought that was hysterical when I was seven.
The movie has such a lethargic, dragged out ending that I was forcing myself to just stick with it until the credits. After all the loopy incidents the film piles on it attempts to end on a bit of heartfelt note that’s really cringing. Trying to crowbar a weak sentimental resolution and a Smash Mouth cameo is not a knee slapping capper, it was just really boring!!! They really didn’t worry about putting a comedic cherry on top on all the nonsense that came before!
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World wasn’t perfect, but at least the jokes were much more hit and miss than this. It was a much more ‘epic’ comedy with big stars and big gags. Plus, there was a better progression and build up to the chaotic payoffs. Rat Race has no kind of comedic finesse and despite having some very talented people involved it’s just a series of loud, desperate, unfunny jokes.
The theme song was kind of catchy at least.