Would you be in
a movie with Whoopi Goldberg for two million dollars?
At first glance,
Rat Race seems like the unholy offspring of the Cannonball Run
movies, if they got drunk and slept with It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
It's possible that in the early stages of its development, that's exactly
what happened. But somehow along the line the filmmakers lucked into more
than a few genuinely funny character actors. Then they accidentally threw
in a somewhat coherent frame on which to hang all the action. To top it
all off, not once does a member of the DeLuise family appear. How did
this go so wrong? Don't they know that August releases are just supposed
in search of a payoff gather in the same Vegas casino, bound by their
willingness to play a slot machine. Each one received a special token
instead of a jackpot, bidding them to join casino owner Donald Sinclair
(a distractingly false-toothed John Cleese) for a special brunch. After
greeting them all, Sinclair reveals his purpose. In Silver Springs,
New Mexico, he has stashed two million dollars in a locker. Each contestant
gets a key. Whoever gets there first, gets the money.
On the other side
of the mirror, however, lies the real action. At least a dozen high-rollers
have gathered to bet on which one of the six will get the prize. Therein
hangs the story, and the rest of the movie can be free to just set up
And so it does.
Director Jerry Zucker has not lost his touch from the old Airplane!
days. Though it's clear that age has mellowed his hand somewhat, every
now and then the old Kentucky Fried anarchy breaks through, even with
actors who have no business thinking they're funny. (See: Goldberg,
At times the comedy
stops for exposition, and those moments drag. For some reason, we've
lost the ability to tell a story and be funny at the same time. Still,
credit Zucker and screenwriter Andy Breckman; even in dull moments,
throwaway lines end up being set-ups for much funnier jokes later in
the film, such as the aptly named Randy Pear (Jon Lovitz) casually mentioning
that he will never drive a Volkswagen. This innocuous remark steamrolls
into an outrageous series of gags involving the Third Reich.
Yes, as Mel Brooks
has proven time and time again, Nazis can be funny. Echoing back to
a time before the Farrelly Brothers, this film takes taboo subjects
and dares us to laugh at them. And it's not just about how funny greed
can be. Beneath a genial crowd-pleasing exterior beats the heart of
a twisted black comedy. It never quite takes over, but it's there.
actors such as Goldberg and Cuba Gooding, Jr. really need their screentime
cut down. As he has for his last half-dozen movies, Gooding does little
more than jump around when he gets upset. Maybe if we stop talking about
them, they'll go away.
Instead, the best
work comes from the smaller comics. Lovitz fits his weird weasel persona
into that of a harried family man, and it works. Proving he can twist
his voice as well as his face, British cult comic Rowan Atkinson finds
some great moments as an Italian drifter, without veering into cartoonishness.
As Cleese's assistant, SCTV vet (and McKenzie Brother) Dave Thomas
gets called a man devoid of personality. And yet, especially in a scene
with a hooker, his struggle to hide his deep yearning stands out as
brilliantly subtle work.
The new kids impress,
too. Seth Green has held his own against Mike Meyers, so he has no trouble
with this ensemble. His embryonic con man is a great character. Saddled
with a possibly retarded brother, Green's Duane deserves bigger things
than the tiny hustles he does. Vince Vieluf, as the brother Blaine,
proves a perfect sidekick. Together they do more good sight gags with
a car than Burt Reynold's entire filmography.
Though the film
sort of piddles out near the end, it still packs a lot of comedic energy.
Between this and Osmosis Jones, there may still be hope for comedy
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