You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rat Race

There are no winners in "Rat Race,'' only a lineup of comic actors running on empty long before the dust settles. The idea of reviving the madcap-pursuit-of-cash formula of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'' is riddled with peril: It's close to a fool's errand to replicate the inimitable essences of its cast.

Enrico Pollini - Rowan Atkinson Donald Sinclair - John Cleese Vera Baker - Whoopi Goldberg Owen Templeton - Cuba Gooding Jr. Duane Cody - Seth Green Randy Pear - Jon Lovitz Nick Schaffer - Breckin Meyer Bev Pear - Kathy Najimy Tracy Faucet - Amy Smart Merrill Jennings - Lanai Chapman Blaine Cody - Vince Vieluf Gus - Paul Rodriguez Zack - Wayne Knight Mr. Grisham - Dave Thomas

There are no winners in “Rat Race,” only a lineup of comic actors running on empty long before the dust settles. The idea of reviving the madcap-pursuit-of-cash formula of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is riddled with peril: It’s close to a fool’s errand to replicate the inimitable essences of Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Edie Adams, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Buddy Hackett, Dick Shawn and Phil Silvers. That Tracy and Co. couldn’t make their chase comedy work is a clear warning sign, but “Rat Race” speeds along anyway, until it literally goes right over the cliff. With summer comedies stuck in a traffic jam, this one appears destined to pick up only the most undemanding riders.

Rooney’s and Hackett’s intended destination in “Mad World” was Vegas — but in ’62, when the Rat Pack still ruled. “Rat Race” begins in Vegas — but in 2001, when ersatz hotels posing as adventurelands rule.

In the Venetian Hotel, attorney Nick (Breckin Meyer) tries not to be tempted by Sin City’s allures. NFL ref Owen (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is reminded of how he flubbed a coin toss. Brothers Duane (Seth Green) and Blaine (Vince Vieluf) dabble in petty crimes. Vera (Whoopi Goldberg) successfully reunites with her aggressively ambitious daughter, Merrill (Lanai Chapman). Randy (Jon Lovitz) has supposedly brought wife Bev (Kathy Najimy) and children to Vegas to see David Copperfield, but he secretly wants to gamble. Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson) is an Italian with narcolepsy.

All of them, passing through the hotel’s slot zone, take a try at the one-armed bandits, and all win a gold coin imprinted with an invite to a reception being held by the hotel’s owner, Donald Sinclair (John Cleese), a man whose pocketbook is only slightly larger than his gleaming white-capped teeth.

Cleese sprinkles a dash of eccentricity on this functional opening as he surprises the group of strangers with an offer: They all have a one-in-six chance of being the first to open a locker at a Silver City, N.M., train station and claim a bag containing $2 million. The only rule, Sinclair explains, is that there are no rules, and the clock starts now.

Unfortunately, director Jerry Zucker’s sense of comic timing is missing. Maybe it’s the crowd of Oscar winners and various stars vying for time, or perhaps it’s Zucker’s relatively long absence from the broad comedy he made his own in the era of “Airplane!,” but from the start, few scenes or moments actually deliver the intended laugh.

And when the chase gets going, it’s a pretty sad spectacle of overwrought farce and, even worse, some half-baked attempts to cash in on the already fading gross-out comedy trend.

Greed begets stupidity, so a ridiculous plot by Duane and Blaine to destroy the Vegas airport’s radar system (thus forcing the competish into cars) sets the painfully blunt tone for the next hour-plus of archly overcooked action scenes. At first, taxi driver Gus (Paul Rodriguez) doesn’t recognize Owen as the ref who caused him to lose a football bet, but when he does, he leaves Owen stranded in the desert. Vera and Merrill speed off, but are sent off course and over a cliff by a frustrated owner of a roadside stand selling squirrels (Kathy Bates, in pic’s only decent cameo).

Randy tells Bev that he’s racing off to a job opportunity, but, on a stopover at the Barbie Museum (dedicated to Klaus Barbie, not the doll), steals Hitler’s Mercedes limo. Enrico snatches a ride with Zack (Wayne Knight), transporting a heart to Texas.

All of these are rough variations on similar individual sections of “Mad World,” including the obligatory airborne sequence provided by Nick, who, after hesitating about the whole venture, recruits Tracy (Amy Smart), a pilot whose helicopter doesn’t need the airport radar. Ultimately, the only guarantee in this movie is that things will get comedically worse.

As if it weren’t already in serious trouble, the production reps the problems of trying to duplicate the American Southwest in predominantly Canadian locations, and after the realistic depiction of Vegas, pic seems to lose all sense of place. Though most of the race is set in Arizona, exteriors never come close to mimicking that state’s unique landscapes (not even a saguaro cactus in sight). Most implausible of all is the finale, apparently set somewhere outside of the already remote Silver City, where pop group Smashmouth stages a giant “Feed the Earth” benefit concert attended by tens of thousands.

Nobody in the cast with a lot to do emerges unscathed, which makes Cleese and Najimy the fortunate ones. Meyer, playing the straight man, at least doesn’t have to act too ridiculous, except when he’s trapped with the unfunny Smart. Rowan Atkinson fans will have to wait until the comic’s next mad scheme, since this one is severely miscalculated. Gooding and Green spend most of their time screaming, while Lovitz and Goldberg look distinctly uncomfortable.

Beyond the location snafus, production is a good-looking venture, punctuated with some impressive shots of transports in various states of speed and/or total collapse. John Powell’s score, full of busy music, is unfortunately one of his least inspired.

Rat Race

Production: A Paramount Pictures release and presentation in association with Fireworks Pictures of an Alphaville/Zucker production. Produced by Jerry Zucker, Janet Zucker, Sean Daniel. Executive producers, Richard Vane, James Jacks. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Screenplay, Andy Breckman.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Thomas Ackerman; editor, Tom Lewis; music, John Powell; music supervisor, Bonnie Greenberg-Goldman; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; art directors, Seth Reed, Doug Byggdin; set designer, Theodore Sharps, Susan Turner; set decorators, Larry Dias, Carol Lavalee, Renee Baril; costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Jeff Wexler, David Ronne, Doug Johnston; supervising sound editor, John Morris; visual effects and animation, Cinesite; visual effects supervisor, Micheal J. McAlister; digital effects supervisor, David Lingenfelser; special effects coordinator, Stan Parks; special makeup and animatronic effects, KNB EFX Group; assistant director, John Edward Hockridge; second unit camera, Mickey Gilbert; casting, Jane Jenkins, Janet Hirshenson. Reviewed at Mann Bruin Theatre, Westwood, July 31, 2001. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: Enrico Pollini - Rowan Atkinson Donald Sinclair - John Cleese Vera Baker - Whoopi Goldberg Owen Templeton - Cuba Gooding Jr. Duane Cody - Seth Green Randy Pear - Jon Lovitz Nick Schaffer - Breckin Meyer Bev Pear - Kathy Najimy Tracy Faucet - Amy Smart Merrill Jennings - Lanai Chapman Blaine Cody - Vince Vieluf Gus - Paul Rodriguez Zack - Wayne Knight Mr. Grisham - Dave ThomasWith: Kathy Bates, Gloria Allred, Dean Cain, Steve Harwell.

More Film

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    Hollywood Agents Blast Writers Guild Over New Proposals

    The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented. The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, president of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild leaders [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    Cesar Awards: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Best Film

    Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody,” a tense portrait of a family torn by domestic violence, won best film, actress (for Lea Drucker), and original screenplay at the 44th Cesar Awards, which took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The awards are France’s highest film honors. “Custody,” which marks Legrand’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Tessa Thompson Nnamdi Asomugha

    Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha to Star in 'Sylvie'

    Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha are set to star in the feature film “Sylvie.” Eugene Ashe has written the screenplay and will direct with production currently underway. The film is described as a love story set in the cool jazz era of New York City in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. Sylvie (played by Thompson) meets aspiring [...]

  • Night Fury dragon Toothless and Hiccup

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Soaring to $50 Million-Plus Launch

    “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is soaring toward a $53 million launch weekend at 4,259 North American locations, early estimates showed on Friday. That estimate is well above Universal’s forecast in the $40 million range at 4,259 sites — and ahead of its predecessors, 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” which made [...]

  • Actors With Disabilities Deserve a Hollywood

    Dreaming of a Hollywood Ending for Actors With Disabilities (Guest Column)

    Picture a world in which an actor with a disability wins an Academy Award. Sadly, that storyline remains no more than a Hollywood fantasy. In recent years, the #OscarsSoWhite trending hashtag campaign has shed light on the lack of diversity in the movie industry. Yet ahead of this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24, society’s definition [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content