|Rat Race (Special Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 29 January 2002|
They don’t make movies like "Rat Race" anymore: large ensemble screwball comedies packed with sight gags, frenetic pace, and an all-star cast on the zany road trip from hell in pursuit of untold riches. Of course, there's a reason why they don't make movies like this any more. However, luckily for all of us, "Rat Race" has more in common with "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (upon which it is loosely based) than "Cannonball Run" and its ilk.
In "Rat Race" , directed by Jerry Zucker (one-third of the team that brought you "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun" franchises) from a script by Andy Breckman ("Sgt. Bilko"), eccentric casino owner and high roller Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) chooses six strangers at random for a race from Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico. Waiting at the finish line is $2 million and the only rule is there are no rules.
The movie kicks into high gear when inept confidence men Duane and Blaine Cody (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf) destroy the airport radar tower, forcing all teams to seek alternate routes to New Mexico. Ordinary joe Nick (Breckin Meyer) teams up with crazy helicopter pilot Tracy (Amy Smart), down-on-his-luck football ref Owen (Cuba Gooding Jr.) masquerades as the driver of a motor coach full of Lucille Ball impersonators, family man Randy (Jon Lovitz) and his wife (Kathy Najimy) and two kids (Brody Smith and Jillian Marie Hubert) end up hijacking Adolph Hitler's touring car, reunited mother and long-lost daughter Vera (Whoopi Goldberg) and Merrill (Lanei Chapman) have a run -n with The Squirrel Lady (Kathy Bates), and narcoleptic foreigner Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson) hitches a ride with a homicidal ambulance driver (Wayne Knight). Modes of transport are gained and lost at a breakneck pace, and of course all parties converge on Silver City simultaneously in a frenzy of greed.
Aided by a well-paced script that darts between cast members and Sinclair's group of high rollers (who will gamble on anything from how much a hooker will charge a particularly kinky john to which hotel maid hanging from a curtain rod will loose her grip first) until the jam-packed finish, and encumbered by only a few crawl-under-the-couch excruciating scenes (one involving Jon Lovitz's Hitler impression at a WWII vet convention, the rest mainly involving a talking Jersey cow), "Rat Race" at its best is an entertaining zany comedy, perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon. At its worst, it’s contrived and silly, as outrageous coincidences ensure that everything that can possibly go wrong will, in the hopes that hilarity ensues.
A hit or miss endeavor, it is nevertheless terrifically entertaining in the group scenes to watch comedians like Cleese, Goldberg, Green, and Lovitz ply their craft with great abandon. Relative newcomer Smart shines as jilted pilot Tracy, and Atkinson as guileless Italian Pollini who lacks the greed of the rest of the ensemble but instead seems genuinely excited merely to be in the race adds much-needed charm. While Vieluf, who mumbles through the film thanks to a do-it-yourself tongue piercing, can be a bit tiresome, he and Green (who performed almost all of their own stunts) gamely fling themselves about with great abandon, dangling from radar towers and hot air balloons.
Touted as a special collector's edition, the extras are only slightly disappointing. The deleted scenes include a wisely-cut sequence involved Cuba Gooding and a pro wrestler in a double-wide track house on a flatbed truck, and more of the high rollers, talking cow, and the Lucys. In lieu of commentary tracks, the viewer instead gets "Jerry and Andy Call the Actors" during which each of the principal cast are called from the sound recording studio in Santa Monica. As the writer and director tell each star how awful and boring the commentary they were recording was, the audience is left to wish they had been given the chance to decide that, as the film itself is barely discussed, and few anecdotes are shared that weren't already covered in the deleted scenes, gag reel or "making of" featurette. Aside from the entertainment factor of picturing Cuba Gooding naked waiting to step into the shower, or Jon Lovitz hanging up on his director (twice), the novelty of this particular gag wears thin very quickly.
The "making of" featurette covers most of the main cast (although Seth Green nabs the lion's share of the screen, and rightly so, as he is wickedly funny) and goes into some of the more complicated stunts, but on the whole, it feels more like a 22-minute trailer. Each cast member discusses how much fun they had making the film, when more time could have been spent chronically the actual production. The interview with Zucker and Breckman, which focuses primarily on the script itself, makes up for this only slightly. It's obvious from the easy working relationship and their obvious affection for one another that the writer and director are longtime collaborators, even if this is the first joint project produced.
The animated menus are simple and easy to navigate, and all of the extras are laid out logically and intuitively. The video transfer is very good, although not stunning. The picture is clear and sharp, and the colors are excellent, particularly the flesh tones and black levels. The audio mix is very good, particularly during the helicopter scenes. Dialogue is crisp and clear and easy to understand when it's meant to be (obviously, no sound mix in the world is going to help audiences understand Vieluf's character), with dialogue coming through the mains and score and effects in the mains and rears. While not a must-own DVD by any means, the entertaining "Rat Race" harks back to a another era.