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With: Whoopi Goldberg, John Cleese, Cuba Gooding Jr., Rowan Atkinson, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Amy Smart
Written by: Andy Breckman
Directed by: Jerry Zucker
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity and language
Running Time: 112
Date: 07/30/2001

Rat Race (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Race' in Your Face

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The other day, one of the Examiner's artists was telling me that when he watches his favorite comedy, which he's seen several times, he laughs before the funny parts in anticipation of seeing them again. I realized that I do the same thing when watching movies as disparate as National Lampoon's Animal House, Fargo, and Rushmore.

I bring this up because it helped me reconcile my feelings about the new comedy Rat Race. When I saw it, I didn't laugh more than three times. But in recalling the film now, it seems a lot funnier.

I have to think back to the first time I saw Tim Burton's Beetlejuice in 1988 and scorned it before seeing it a second time on video and finding it hysterical. I'm certain that Rat Race belongs in this same company.

Part of what makes me certain is the director Jerry Zucker, who was one-third responsible for perhaps the funniest film ever made, Airplane! (1980), as well as "Police Squad!" the second-funniest TV series ever made after "The Simpsons." Alas, the times have changed for the worse and Zucker can no longer get away with such deadpan subtleties and background jokes as he did in those early efforts. With its huge, broad gestures, Rat Race is sledgehammer comedy that not even a monkey could miss.

Another reason I liked Rat Race is the whole "scavenger hunt" plot. When I was a kid, I watched a stupid movie called Scavenger Hunt (starring Vincent Price and many others) on cable about 10 times. Sending a half-dozen groups of characters out into the world with nothing on their minds but greed really loosens up the logic of a film.

In Rat Race, casino mogul John Cleese sends his chosen ones across country to a safe-deposit box in the middle of nowhere. The first person who gets there and opens it gets the $2 million inside. That's it. So Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Amy Smart and Vince Vieluf hit the road. At first everyone tries go by plane, but Green and Vieluf sabotage the radio tower, causing everyone to make tracks -- tire tracks.

Smart and Meyer take off in her own helicopter, which doesn't need the radio tower to fly; Atkinson hitches a ride with Wayne Knight, who's transporting a human heart cross -country, Lovitz and family end up stealing Hitler's car from a museum, Gooding Jr. masquerades as a bus driver carting a gross of Lucys to an "I Love Lucy" convention, and Goldberg and Lanai Chapman play a newly-reconciled mother and daughter who quickly bond over the idea of 2 million smackeroos.

Everything that could conceivably go wrong goes wrong.

In my mind, the standouts are Green and Vieluf who play seemingly indestructible brothers. The moment that makes me laugh as I write this is when they accidentally enter a monster truck arena and accidentally park at the end of a row of stunt cars. Zucker gears down to slo-mo as we watch them frantically scramble out of the car, while in the background a monster truck glides gracefully through the air toward them.

A year from now, I might find some other part much funnier.

Perhaps I'm asking a bit much of viewers to invest some time in this movie, when the film biz is geared toward instant gratification and opening weekend grosses. Or maybe I'm wrong altogether and I enjoyed Rat Race only as a kind of flashback to my Scavenger Hunt days.

Either way, I laughed and I'm laughing now, and perhaps I shouldn't think about that too much.

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