Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:50 - Released 8/17/01

Writing a review of Jerry Zucker's Rat Race without mentioning It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World would be a gross oversight, since this movie is so obviously patterned after it. However, calling Zucker's film a remake of Stanley Kramer's classic 1963 screwball comedy would be giving it too much credit. I would think a better term would be "pathetic attempt to emulate" the earlier film. Rat Race has its funny moments (which would undoubtedly be funnier if it were more original), but its clear similarities to Mad, Mad serve to underscore its flaws, giving it a built-in handicap from the proverbial get-go. However, judged on its own merits it's a passable comedy about a dozen or so people who race across the country (or at least 563 miles) to win a $2 million treasure, getting themselves in all sorts of wacky situations along the way. It features moments of inanity from virtually all its participants, but only scores the occasional chuckle for its effort. Writer/producer/director Zucker, whose directorial credits include comedies like Airplane! and Ruthless People, and romances like Ghost and First Knight, manages to pull off his version of the old-fashioned celebrity romp in just under 2 hours.

The story begins in a Las Vegas casino, where a number of random people are selected to engage in a race for the aforementioned $2 mil, hidden in a railroad station locker in Silver City, New Mexico, by the casino's owner, the very wealthy and oily Donald Sinclair (John Cleese, sporting a ridiculously large and ill-fitting set of false teeth). Unbeknownst to the largely selfish and common-sense-challenged group, Sinclair's real reason for the caper is to allow a collection of international high-rollers to bet on which of the schmucks will make it first.

The principal participants are aspiring attorney and self-admitted "most gullible person on Earth" Nick Shaffer (Breckin Meyer), who first decides not to participate but changes his mind when he meets fresh-faced helicopter pilot Tracy Faucet (Amy Smart); middle-aged nice lady Vera Baker (Whoopi Goldberg) and her long-lost daughter, edgy businesswoman Merrill Jennings (Lanei Chapman), who met each other for the first time right before becoming involved in the race; doofy con artist brothers Duane and Blaine Cody (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf), whose only reason for being in Vegas was to rip someone off; NFL ref Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding Jr.), enjoying recent notoriety for a bad call at a Dallas game (which nearly everyone in Vegas had money riding on); vacationing family Randy and Bev Pear (Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy) and their kids (Brody Smith, Jillian Marie); and finally, narcoleptic Italian Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson), whose grasp of the situation seems almost as tenuous as his ability to stay awake.

As in the 1963 film, this group breaks off, mostly in pairs, and gets in all sorts of ridiculous situations, traveling in every kind of vehicle imaginable (except an airplane), including various cars and trucks, a taxicab, helicopter, hot air balloon, rocket car, tour bus, mental hospital bus, a chartered bus en route to an I Love Lucy convention, and Adolph Hitler's Rolls Royce. Meanwhile, Sinclair and his assistant (Dave Thomas) keep their guests busy by letting them bet on everything from what a Vegas hooker will charge for a butt shave to who'll throw up first on the flight to New Mexico. The film ends at a Silver City Smash Mouth concert, with the actors all gleefully moshing over the end credits. It's almost worth the ticket price alone to see Kathy Najimy dive off the stage into the audience; at any rate Rat Race, while nowhere near the level of its mad, mad predecessor, is adequate fun and merits at least a passing grade. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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