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'Rat Race'

It's a mad, mad movie: All-stars run for the money in funny 'Rat Race'

Friday, August 17, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Jon Lovitz is speeding along the highway in a frenzy to outrace everybody else for $2 million stashed in a bus-station locker. But unlike his rivals, Lovitz is saddled with his wife and kids. The girl sees a sign -- "BARBIE MUSEUM" -- and they nag him to stop. Imagine their surprise, once inside, to discover it's the KLAUS Barbie Museum, and the docents on its highly compulsory tour are all certified Nazis.

 
    'RAT RACE'

Rating: PG-13 for crude language & partial nudity

Players: John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Lovitz, Seth Green, Vince Vieluf, Breckin Meyer, Amy Smart

Director: Jerry Zucker

Critic's call:

 
 

For some reason, this struck me as very funny. How it strikes you will depend on your taste for big-prize, all-star ensemble chase comedies a la "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

This mad, mad "Rat Race" opens in a Las Vegas casino whose perverse owner-tycoon (John Cleese) gives six hapless customers a chance to race each other for the big bucks in Silver City, N.M., 700 miles away. Why would he do such a thing?

"Because I'm eccentric!" says gleeful Cleese -- and because he and his high-rolling fellow gamblers will be tracking the contestants' every move (the way George Burns used to track Gracie and Blanche) and betting on the outcome.

Not all of the all-star cast members are really such "stars," but there are enough for the genre to qualify: Whoopi Goldberg just stopped by the casino to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption. Cuba Gooding Jr. is a defrocked NFL referee who came into the casino bar to drown his sorrows for making the wrong coin-toss call at a championship game. Rowan Atkinson is a terminally cheerful Italian idiot, plagued by narcolepsy. Lovitz is Randy Pear, the family man in the middle of a vacation from (and in) hell. Seth Green and Vince Vieluf are brother scam artists, one of whom has so many tongue and mouth piercings that not a word he says is intelligible.

Sight gags abound, including a fine one in which the brothers' truck gets wrapped around and up to the top of a radar tower.

Even better is a sequence in which Whoopi and her new-found daughter tangle with the Squirrel Lady -- and suffer a fate like Jimmy Durante's in "Mad World" for refusing to buy one of her squirrels.

But the best by far involves Cuba Gooding and the bus he commandeers for the race: It's full of Lucy Ricardo impersonators on their way to an "I Love Lucy" convention, and they drive him insane with their red hair and incessant "waaaahing" all the way.

Some of "Rat Race's" silly stuff falls flat, but much hits the mark, as we might expect from director Jerry Zucker -- co-director, writer and/or producer of the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" comedies (as well as Whoopi's Oscar-winning "Ghost"). Zucker knows his shtick, which derives in this instance from the pen of screenwriter Andy Breckman (a David Letterman and Steve Martin gag writer).

The result is a sort of James Bond on X-stasy adventure, and a fine foolish summer-film exercise.


[Postscript: "Rat Race" is not to be confused with "The Rat Race," the good 1960 Tony Curtis film of the Garson Kanin play. Evidently, you can get around the copyright laws by adding, subtracting or altering an article. Look for "Gone With a Wind" and "The Citizen Kane," coming soon to a theater near you.]

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