Worth A Look: 17.69%
Pretty Bad: 14.62%
Total Crap: 14.62%
7 reviews, 88 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
Since this is a comedy directed by one-third of the team responsible for the finest American comedy of the modern era (that's Airplane!, of course), you might expect this to be a fast-paced, laugh-a-minute marathon of humor. You'd be wrong. Despite a few solid giggles dispersed about every 25 minutes, you'd be hard pressed to find a comedy that works so hard and delivers so little.I've noticed that several reviewers liken the comedy in Rat Race to the inspired lunacy of movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. To those people, I'd like to offer a brief yet smug seminar.
"Like watching a hyperactive child wind down for the evening."
Satire - A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. Airplane! is a satire. It tweaks the conventions of the Airport films as well as popular culture in general through the use of the most absurd styles of comedy imaginable. Despite what the film looks and sounds like, Airplane! is a smart movie.
Farce - A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect. Rat Race is a farce, and not a very good one at that. It places (allegedly) real humans (and nary a likeable one to be found) in truly ridiculous situations and then hopes to plumb some humor from soap-filled buses, upside-down flying cows, the always clever "car crashes" and a young child forced to poop out of a moving car. In keeping with the overall vibe of the film, Rat Race is a stupid, stupid movie. And while "stupid" certainly CAN be funny, in this movie...it's just not.
Obviously inspired by such questionable comedy classics as Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the forgotten slapstick wonkfest entitled Scavenger Hunt, Jerry Zucker's latest movie is definitely not the return to comedic form that fans have been hoping for since this director went "legit", lost his funny bone and started directing films like First Knight.
You know your movie is in trouble when it starts out with one of these "wacky" animated sequences. Man, nothing gets my giggles rolling like seeing a cartoon likeness of Cuba Gooding Jr. falling on his head. The plot revolves around one of those "winner takes all" race scenarios that are so popular in movies that nobody really likes. (My apologies to those movie fans out there who hold Million Dollar Mystery in high regard.) Rat Race is essentially a 21st century version of The Cannonball Run, only instead of the accent being on fast cars, eye-popping cleavage and a humiliatingly drunken Dean Martin, the focus here is on tired pratfalls, jokes that go "thud" and nonsensical camera mugging.
The "story" is best described as episodic...and that's me being kind. An episode of Saturday Night Live has more story continuity. And since it's a movie comprised of about 6 mini-movies in one, here's a brief rundown:
Six people chosen a random are entered into a cross-country treasure hunt. Each person is given a gold key that unlocks a train station locker containing 2 million smackers. That's it. Another bold leap forward in the evolution of the art of screenwriting.
Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy have two chubby kids. The four of them make a run for the cash, although Lovitz (giggle) doesn't tell his family about it. Lovitz's main gag is to appear as Hitler at a WWII reunion. Don't ask. This sequence is one of the most painfully unfunny things I've ever seen...and I've seen Ishtar.
Breckin Meyer is a bland piece of toast sorta guy who enlists the aid of pretty Amy Smart...who is a helicopter pilot. Their big gag comes when they demolish a swimming pool with...a helicopter. Do your sides hurt? Mine don't.
Seth Green and Vince Vieluf are two wanna-be con artist brothers who are forced to commandeer a hot-air balloon to expedite their journey. Since these two are irretrievably stupid, complications ensue in the form of a key-stealing thief and an upside-down cow.
Rowan Atkinson is a grating Italian fellow who conveniently (for the plot) also suffers from narcolepsy. This unintelligible dolt pairs up with Newman from Seinfeld, and if there were ever three words that ensured a swift death of all things amusing, they would be "Newman" "from" and "Seinfeld".
Whoopi Goldberg and her estranged daughter (Lanei Chapman) end up borrowing a rocket car and they whoosh across the desert going 600 miles an hour. Seriously, let me know when this starts to sound funny.
Oh, and I saved the best for last.
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays an NFL referee who has recently screwed up royally on National TV. Basically, everyone who sees him wants to beat him up. Count me in. Cuba's big gag (pun intended) comes when he assumes the guise of a bus driver. Unfortunately, the bus he's driving is filled with Lucille Ball impersonators. Honestly - It should be illegal for comedy to be this clever.
Of course, there are various little roles that prove to be just perfect for Hollywood types whose careers are on the wane. Actors like Dave Thomas, Kathy Bates and Paul Rodriguez stand around the periphery, desperately scrounging for any spare punch lines. Trust me when I say that they all leave hungry.
To be fair, there are a handful of solid gags that did indeed tickle me a bit. One involves a rather funny slo-mo shot of a monster truck rally catastrophe, while most of the other good bits are left to John Cleese and his gaggle of high-rolling gamblers.
Oh wait, I didn't mention that part? Yeah, Cleese is the casino owner and this race is nothing more than a massive "horse race", with millionaires betting on the outcome. Based on the movie's atrocious third act, I'm certain that it's not just these gamblers who went home unhappy.
Because Rat Race offers perhaps the worst ending of any movie from the past five years. Yes, it's even worse than the "WTF?!?!" ending from last month's unnecessary Planet of the Apes remake. Here's a little clue into spotting a poor movie: If at any point in the film a character points offscreen and yells "Hey look! It's Smashmouth" before the bargain bin band kicks into their uber-grating tune "All-Star"...you're watching a bad movie.
It's not the fault of the cast that this movie is so depressingly flaccid. Nearly every actor onscreen is working their hardest to wring some giggles out of the inane goings-on. Some, like Seth Green and John Cleese, earned their paychecks. Others, such as the never-again-to-be-funny Whoopi Goldberg, the unbelievable-that-he-ever-won-an-Oscar Cuba Gooding and the never-ever-ever funny Newman from Seinfeld, simply make you want to remove your shoes and lob them at the movie screen.
Aside from about 6 minutes worth of solid gags, there's nothing in Rat Race that isn't forced, tired, trite or predictable. If this movie were one-third as funny as the cast obviously thought it was, then we'd have a comic masterwork. As it stands, Rat Race is a limp and homogenized comedy product, as empty and belabored as comedies get. If you'd have told me that the co-director of Airplane! would end up creating glorified TBS kiddie-movies, I'd have said "Surely you must be kidding..."To those who can respond appropriately to the above quote, you know how deeply depressed this movie made me.
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originally posted: 10/10/01 11:17:07