Rat Race

By all accounts, Rat Race should be a bad movie. But something bizarre happens along the way; it is genuinely funny, in an old-fashioned, loony kind of way. The jokes are simple, yet constant. Maybe it grows on one, or maybe is just pummels the viewer into submission. Whatever the reason, Rat Race, like Bubble Boy, another recent movie (also better than it should be) manages to generate a surprising amount of laughs. Especially for its story, which is essentially a rehash of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Six groups of total strangers are racing from Las Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico, with $2 million going to the victor. It's all conceived by Donald Sinclair (John Cleese, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Isn't She Great), a rich casino owner. He and his clients are seeking new and unusual ways of gambling, and they figure this race would be a great way to wager money. In fact, Sinclair and his clients seem to gamble on anything they can imagine.

Director Jerry Zucker (First Knight, Ghost) and writer Andy Breckman (Sgt. Bilko, I.Q.) somewhat haphazardly throw all the principals together. Nobody believes the offer at first, but the thought of winning the pot eventually appeals to the greed of each unwitting contestant. The first contestant is Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson, Maybe Baby, Blackadder Back and Forth) a narcoleptic Italian. Next is Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding, Jr., Snow Dogs, Zoolander), a referee publicly humiliated after a bad call. Then there's Randall Pear (Jon Lovitz, Cats and Dogs, 3000 Miles to Graceland), a man on vacation with his family. He takes part in this race without the knowledge of his wife and children, although they are with him as he is speeding across the country. Duane Cody (Seth Green, Rock Star, America's Sweethearts) and his brother Blaine (Vince Vieluf, Dropping Out, Everything Put Together) are two con men. Vera Baker (Whoopi Goldberg, Monkeybone, Kingdom Come) and her estranged, preppy daughter Meryl Baker-Jennings (Lanei Chapman, The Importance of Being Earnest, White Men Can't Jump) for another team, and the final team consists of straight-laced lawyer Nick Schaffer (Breckin Meyer, Kate & Leopold, Josie and the Pussycats) and Tracey Faucett (Amy Smart, Scotland, PA, Road Trip), an attractive woman he meets.

Needless to say, everybody is partially mismatched with somebody else, and hijinks ensure on their respective trips to Silver City. Like similar movies, Zucker constantly throws in sight gags and jokes to keep the audience distracted. This really is a thin story; more of an excuse to put a bunch of random situations together. What keeps things funny is Zucker and Breckman's refusal to leave anything alone. Nearly every major joke turns into a running gag, which means that the same misfortune plagues each contestant constantly. A busload of Lucille Ball lookalikes, a hot air balloon, a helicopter, a human heart, and skinheads all figure into the plot. It makes no sense yet at the same time has its own internally consistent system of logic. Some of the teams are more interesting than others, which results from a combination of both the acting capabilities and the particular story. The people that come out the best are Atkinson, Lovitz, and Cleese, and these are the people with the most comic experience. Overall, Rat Race is a dumb movie, but it's fun dumb movie.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 12 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity, and language.

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