Paramount // 2001 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 25th, 2002
In a city where anything goes and everything is possible, six strangers are about to be given the chance of a lifetime! Let the race begin!
Rat Race is loosely based on the 1969 Stanley Kramer comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a movie about the desperate scuttle of a group attempting to retrieve a hidden stash of $350,000. Working off this premise (and upping the ante to a cool $2 million), writer Andy Breckman (Sgt. Bliko) and director Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ghost) have fashioned a farce of zany proportions! Starring John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Rowin Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act), Jon Lovitz (Little Nicky), Seth Green (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), Breckin Meyer (Kate and Leopold), and Amy Smart (Road Trip), Rat Race shuffles its way onto a special collector's edition care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
A group of wild and wacky people are about to take off for the race of their life -- after $2 million dollars worth of loot! Casino owner Donald Sinclair (Cleese) has stashed $2 million dollars in a locker in New Mexico, and all the racers have to do is be the first one there. Several contestants are picked at random through the slot machines in the casino's main floor. (When one character points out that Sinclair just can't pick people at random, Sinclar snaps back with, "I can do anything I like. I'm eccentric."). The contestants include the stuffy Nick Schaffer (Meyer) and a helicopter pilot (Smart), major league football referee Owen Templeton (Gooding, Jr.), scam artist brothers Duane (Green) and Blaine Cody (Vince Vieluf), Vera Baker (Goldberg) and her long lost daughter Merrill (Lanni Chapman), vacationing suburbanite Randy Pear (Lovitz) and his wife (Kathy Najimy) and two children, and the feeble minded oddball Enrico Pollini (Atkinson). As the contestants scamper for the cash, they'll use every hysterical trick in the book to make sure they win this frantic Rat Race!
Hands down, Rat Race was the funniest movie from the summer of 2001. Written by Andy Breckman and directed by Jerry Zucker, this fast paced farce had me laughing from beginning to end (no small feat considering the present collapse of the comedy genre as we know it). The movie is pure lunacy with a wonderfully eclectic comic cast. Seth Green: funny. Jon Lovitz: very funny. John Cleese: hysterical. Rowin Atkinson: I peed my pants.
What makes Rat Race such an enjoyable movie is the way the plot intertwines a series of goofy plots and chases into a frantic bustle of laughs. From John Cleese's introduction (his hysterically deadpan warning that "a meteor the size of North Carolina is heading straight to earth" was one of the highpoints of the movie) all the way to the climactic ending involving two men fighting from a hot air balloon using squirting cow udders as weapons seep with well played comedy. The movie is filled with moments that made me laugh, and after I was done laughing, I laughed some more. The cast is so able and willing to do whatever it takes to wring a laugh out of you that it makes the thing seem that much more funny.
John Cleese, whose wacky humor contrasts brilliantly with his stuffy persona, is at his very best as the man responsible for the race. Jon Lovitz is, well...Job Lovitz (but he plays the part oh-so-well). Rowin Atkinson, known primarily to American audiences as the irreverent Mr. Bean, is just plain weird as Enrico Pollini, an Italian weirdo who has no idea how to speak proper English (when he sees a collection of cocktail weenies at a buffet he exclaims that he loves those little "cock doggies"). Everyone else, including a wonderfully exasperated Cuba Gooding, Jr., Whoopi Goldberg and Breckin Meyer, are excellent in their roles. Even a deadpan Dave Thomas (Strange Brew) shows up as a lawyer who was "born without a personality." Jerry Zucker, part of the team that brought us Airplane!, easily one of the funniest movies ever made, knows how to keep things moving at a brisk pace. No one ever oversteps their boundaries or tries to take over the show -- this is the very definition of an ensemble cast, and it's one that works marvelously.
Children being forced to urinate while in a moving car. Maids hanging from hotel drapes in a bet to see who can hang on the longest. Cuba Gooding, Jr. stuck on a bus full of Lucille Ball impersonators. Jon Lovitz and his on-screen family driving along in Adolph Hitler's car. Rat Race is a turn-off-your-brain laugh fest that, if not taken seriously, should provide a hearty set of laughs for almost two straight hours. Now...ready, set, GO!
Rat Race is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a great job on this transfer. Filled with bright colors and shining hues, this is a marvelous looking picture. The black levels all seem solid and well rendered while only the SLIGHTEST amount of edge enhancement was spotted. Overall I found this to be a very gratifying transfer.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround in French and English. This 5.1 soundtrack sounds good, if not great. There are moments where the surround feature kicked in, utilizing both the rear and front speakers, but overall this is a relatively subdued track save for John Powell's bouncy and conniving musical score. All aspects of the dialogue, music, and effects are free and clear of any distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Paramount has put together a "Special Collector's Edition" of Rat Race for fans of the absurd and hysterical. Starting off the disc is a 21-minute "The Making Of Rat Race" featurette. The feature includes interviews with much of the cast and crew, and is broken up into sections like "The Players," "The Set-Up," and "On The Road." This is a very entertaining feature that has a lot of insight (okay, laughs) about the making of the movie (I laughed pretty darn at a gag about how the movie has not one but two Academy Award winning African American actors in the film). One character points out that he thinks that "Rat Race to me is going to be a mix of complete brainlessness and The Matrix." I don't know about that, but it, and this feature, are entertaining.
Next up are six deleted scenes presented in non-anamorphic widescreen that can be viewed either separately or together. Each scene has an introduction by director Jerry Zucker and, surprisingly, are pretty funny. While I can see why a few were cut, overall these comprise a nice set of scenes that you'd normally never have seen, and are actually vastly humorous. The "gag reel" is your basic flubs and outtakes from the movie set to music. Much like the deleted scenes, this feature is actually pretty funny and a worthwhile watch. "The Giggles" is an extended outtake that features actors Seth Green and Vince Vieluf screwing up their lines over and over and over and over again. Funny, though not as good as the gag reel.
An eight-minute "Exclusive Interview with Jerry Zucker and Andy Breckman" is just that -- each man discussing his involvement with the film, how it came to be, what makes it funny, et cetera. Once again, I found this to be a substantial feature that produced a good amount of insight into many aspects of the film.
The most bizarre extra on this disc has to be "Andy and Jerry Call the Actors." This extra is Jerry Zucker and Andy Breckman making telephone calls to 13 of the actors in the film and discussing with them everything from how their day is going to how they liked working on Rat Race, almost as if we've been privy to eavesdropping on a call by famous Hollywood folks. Each call seems to be more bizarre than the next, and while this isn't a feature I will end up watching multiple times, it was still a lot of fun to have on the disc. Oddly, during many of the conversations Zucker and Breckman talk about how they are at the studio recording a commentary track for the film. However, no commentary is included on this disc, possibly because both men kept referring to the fact that even they were getting bored recording it.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for Rat Race presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
A fluffy and fun comedy from beginning to end, Rat Race is an easy recommendation. How can you go wrong with a movie from one of the guys who brought you The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and The Naked Gun? Paramount has done a nice job on this disc, so kudos to them.
Rat Race pleads insanity, and is found guilty of just that!
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer
* Exclusive Interview with Director Jerry Zucker and Writer Andy Breckman
* Deleted Scenes
* The Making Of Rat Race Featurette
* Gag Reel
* "Jerry and Andy Call the Actors"
* Official Site