The Austin Chronicle

Rat Race

Rated PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Starring Kathy Bates, Dean Cain, Dave Thomas, Vince Vieluf, Wayne Knight, Paul Rodriguez, Lanai Chapman, Amy Smart, Kathy Najimy, Breckin Meyer, Jon Lovitz, Seth Green, Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 17, 2001

Why some Paramount production executives thought that now was a good time to revive the big-ensemble chase comedy formula is anyone's guess. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world, indeed. Given that emulation is the dubious goal of this new movie Rat Race, things actually turn out better than one might have expected -- although not nearly as well as if things had been left alone. Rat Race goes for fast and dumb, and dammit if it doesn't connect dead-on with the funnny bone. The movie is a stuffed grab bag of setups, characters, and gags tossed scattershot across the screen. Many land DOA but the odds favor the movie's grab-bag style for its ability to score laughs due, if nothing else, to sheer volume. It's the spitball approach to filmmaking: Throw as much as possible up against the wall and then see what sticks. Viewers here will find themselves laughing a great deal, even though they'll have to wipe some spit from their faces along with their tears of laughter. The setup takes six random visitors to a Vegas casino and turns them into figurative rats who are given the opportunity to race each other to a locker in Silver City, New Mexico, in order to win all the cheese -- a duffel bag filled with $2 million. The contest is the brainchild of an eccentric and wealthy casino owner (Cleese), who devises the event for the pleasure of a group of high-rollers in need of new thrills. The six include a goofy narcoleptic Italian (Atkinson), a mother (Goldberg) reuniting with the daughter (Chapman) she gave up for adoption, an NFL coach (Gooding) disgraced by a wrong call he made during a televised game, a man (Lovitz) on vacation with his family who lies to them about their sudden change in destination, a pair of trouble-making brothers (Green and Vieluf), and an uptight lawyer (Meyer) in town for a bachelor convention who hooks up with a helicopter pilot (Smart), who agrees to go his way. None of the characters or their plight is very well-developed, although some of these actors are simply funnier than the others -- for example, Lovitz, Goldberg, Cleese, and maybe Atkinson. Gooding is just plain noisy, although it's hard not to laugh uproariously when his character's stuck driving a busload of Lucys to an I Love Lucy convention. Much of the movie defies logic and physics, but scenes move quickly enough for them not to have a terribly disruptive impact. The look of the film, however, suffers from having been blandly filmed in Calgary and not making use of the fabulous scenery that would have ordinarily appeared during a road trip between Nevada and New Mexico. Directed by Airplane!'s Jerry Zucker and written by SNL and David Letterman alum Andy Breckman, Rat Race is an uneven hodge-podge. Despite its many pitfalls, however, I defy anyone to sit through the movie without laughing.

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