by Greg Muskewitz
Rat Race: It’s no home-run, but it is a bit of a pop-fly that happens to land in the outfield, after an attempt for—if not the HR—then definitely something in the infield.The Jerry Zucker-directed bowl of highjinks is said to be inspired by It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Cannonball Run and their ilk, which in terms of zany madness, appropriately finds itself somewhere on the ZAZ homefield. However, the only rep on homeplate is Z (producing relative Janet Zucker doesn’t count), and so the team is already handicapped. What happens when a casino owner and his worldwide-stretching clientele bet on which out of a piss-poor group of six minor-leaguers can get to $2-million first? Supposedly, Rat Race. Six main characters—most with at least one running-mate—must travel by any means from the Vegas casino to Silver City, New Mexico and get there first to claim the prize money. We’re talking planes, trains and automobiles, and if that doesn’t work, whatever is laid in front of them. John Cleese, as the owner of the casino, along with his cohorts bet on any number of “challenges” or “competitions” in the interim, whether it be what cleaning maid can hang onto the curtain railing longest, or how much a hooker would charge Dave Thomas to take a bath in champagne, while he clips his toenails and she shaves his ass, or which gambler will upchuck on the bumpy plane ride first, etc. Then of course, there are the characters themselves: two youthy delinquents, one a scammer, one with a bad case of do-it-yourself tongue piercing; a corpulent husband and wife with their two corpulent kids; a newly reunited mother and daughter; an infamous NFL referee and his busload of imitation I Love Lucys; a narcoleptic nutcase and a heart transplant driver who hit him; and a by-the-book lawyer-in-training who stumbles onto a knock-out but whacked-out blonde. Having no roots in reality, the movie is able to have complete control over comedic convenience, so that it has the ability to slapstick-ize something small per se, as given away in the previews, when Amy Smart charges her helicopter into a nose-dive to seek revenge on her cheating boyfriend. But as well, it takes liberties with extremities of the other end, such as having the doltish brothers end up with their vehicle towed up a flight tower, therefore eliminating planes as a form of transportation. For as many characters as there are, they are not very fleshy, nor are they very likable, which when in an ensemble such as Rat Race is, it a) makes following the characters less compelling and less interesting, and b) by having so many of them—not just the initial six, but all of their counterparts and relations—you tend to fall prey to forgetting about them. Not enough time is spent with these characters who are briefly picked up, only to be dropped off and replaced for the next to ensure maximum laugh potential. It becomes a case that when a pair of them turns up after a lengthy screen absence, you think, ‘oh yeah, I forgot they were (still) a part of this.’ In the first place, I think it’s a mistake to treat them all like main characters, at least in the time frame provided, and at least without spending more time, quality time, with them (not that it would have made certain characters more appealing by doing so). As would be expected, who I found to be the most interesting of the bunch, not to mention that the actors are probably the most talented, they are never around enough or at the right time. Whoopi Goldberg and Lanai Chapman’s team are to me the most winsome and entertaining of the bunch, but they’re put on the back-burner too much to weasel out the most amount of gags elsewhere. Of the better choices, at least we are given acceptable dosages of Jon Lovitz and company, putting up with his aggravating children (the daughter has to go Number 2 while on the road, and unable to hold it refers to it as “prairie dogging”) or his ditzy wife, who hilariously end up driving in Nazi paraphernalia. There are laughs throughout, but the best ones are far spread out from each other; they come too intermittently and inconsistently to hold this salmagundi from erupting with a bland, conventional and combative flavor that continuously knocks each other down leaving (literally) no one victorious at the end. So for every successful method of madness (traveling at the speed of a bullet, busting into a WWII convention with a lipstick-smeared Hitler moustache, etc.), there is an innumerable amount that bellyflop. Most of the comedic talents are not well-applied (Goldberg especially shines with what she’s given, but isn’t given nearly enough), but the two who fare best in terms of talent and room are Lovitz and newcomer Chapman. Whatever form you are used to with Lovitz, he fills appropriately and funnily, but Chapman is the real surprise, or treat actually, an actresses gifted not only in looks and talent, but most impressingly, a strong and powerful diction. (Listen to her as she asks for directions to “the interstate”—that clear and directive annunciation, it gives me chills!) David Mamet had better get a hold of this talent, for what a sound and voice she would provide in accompaniment of his rhythmic dialogue. The bases were certainly loaded, but with such lackluster pitching statistics, it’s no surprise to see this dwindling out of steam before the ninth inning.
"The line is busy."
With Cuba Gooding, Jr., Rowan Atkinson, Kathy Najimy, Breckin Meyer, Wayne Knight, Seth Green, and Vince Vieluf, with cameos by Kathy Bates and Dean Cain. Written by Andy Breckman.Final Verdict: C-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4740&reviewer=172
originally posted: 09/17/01 13:20:54