RAT RACE, zany slapstick in the run-for-the-loot vein, needs to be watched when you’re in a silly mood, hopefully with like-twisted friends. Directed by Jerry Zucker (Airplane!), written by Andy Bregman, it’s not heavy on what you’d call “good taste”, but the game cast and nutty set-pieces throw enough gags out that a good number stick. You groan over one that’s juvenile or feeble, then laugh out loud at the next one that clicks.
A prankish tycoon (John Cleese) sets up a prize-chase where six random people take off from his Las Vegas casino to sprint for two million bucks waiting in a locker in Silver City, New Mexico. The participants don’t know it, but high-rollers are taking bets on who’ll get there first. Of course, a few other not-so-innocent citizens join the fray, and a good deal of property is damaged during the scramble.
As with other force-multiplying comedies, there are some characters and cast members you’ll like better/less than others, and sometimes the frenzy gets too loud. The material that might be considered offensive is so broadly played—and with good-natured innocence rather than malice behind it—that you have to be a pretty sour drip to get teed over it. The stunts are suitably berserk.
After the cash stash——-a straight-laced attorney (Breckin Meyer) who links with a cute but hot-tempered helicopter pilot (Amy Smart); a laid-back lady (Whoopi Goldberg) and her uptight daughter (Lanei Chapman); a disgraced referee (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who ends up driving a bus full of I Love Lucy cosplayers; two dorkish brothers (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf); a sneaky tourist (Jon Lovitz) dragging his unsuspecting wife and kids along; a genial, narcoleptic Italian (Rowan Atkinson) who joins forces with a shady deliveryman (Wayne Knight). The saucy Smart, endearingly goofy Vieluf and sly dog Knight are my picks, but everyone gets their licks in. Judging by the extra features on the DVD, they had a blast making this, and it shows. *
Shot in Alberta, Nevada, New Mexico and California. Made for $48,000,000, it farced its way into 44th place for 2001, grossing $85,500,000. Bouncy title tune over the happy opening credits is performed by Baha Men. Others in the cast include Kathy Najimy, Paul Rodriguez, Dave Thomas, Brandy Ledford, Colleen Camp, Silas Weir Mitchell and Rance Howard. Cameo bits are done by Kathy Bates (‘squirrel gal’), Dean Cain, Smash Mouth and Gloria Allred. 112 minutes.
* Usually it’s referred to as an homage to the classic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and while the run-for-the-money scheme fits, it’s a wee unfair to stack it up against the cast, scope, finesse and societal snapshot of the 1963 giant. Compared to the generally lame comedy lineup for 2001, Rat Race gets the job done. We won’t list the losers, but the good comedies that year include The Royal Tenenbaums, Legally Blonde, Ghost World, Bandits and Bridget Jones’s Diary.