It's against all my better judgment that I have to sit here and recommend a movie as potentially catastrophic as "Rat Race" (IMDb listing). Looking at the trailers, commercials, posters, even the cast itself, and it's tough to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel of expectations. Outside of Adam Sandler, nobody has tried a farce as broad as this in some time. Being a pushover for the silly, "Rat Race" is a tiny little pearl of a comedy that is as surprising in its proficiency as in its laughs.
Six sets of lovable losers have come to Las Vegas to gamble (Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy), grift (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf), reunite (Whoopi Goldberg and Lanei Chapman), forget (Cuba Gooding Jr.), business (Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart), and, well... other ("Mr. Bean" himself, Rowan Atkinson). Summoned to the hotel suite of billionaire Donald Sinclair (John Cleese), the group is informed that two million dollars is located in a New Mexico locker, and the first one to it gets to keep the money. At first wary of this chance at millions, the group suddenly wakes up to the possibilities of the money and dashes off to retrieve it.
"Rat Race" is the type of comedy that just goes for it. No holds barred, and packed with eye-watering laughs, this is a comedy for people who miss comedies that refused to take themselves seriously. Directed by the legendary Jerry Zucker (one of the minds behind "Airplane," "Top Secret," and "The Naked Gun"), "Rat Race" is a return to form for the helmer, who spent the better part of the last ten years making dramas and blockbusters ("Ghost" and "First Knight"). Zucker brings to the screen an unfettered love for the preposterous and the painfully obvious. He takes a delight in setting up intricate set pieces just as much as the occasional throwaway sight gag. What else can you say about a film that spends a long time setting up a Hitler joke, and features two appearances by publicity-whore lawyer Gloria Allred?
As noted above, Zucker isn't all that interested in keeping the material politically correct either. The film charges full steam ahead into scenes of cross-dressing Lucille Ball lookalikes, neo-Nazi rallies (shades of "The Blues Brothers"), bumbling heart transplant couriers, and various scenes of ethic-free billionaires. Billionaires who also place wagers on everything from how long the hotel maids hold a chin-up to just how bizarre a demand can be made of a Vegas prostitute before she says no. It's nice to have a picture so eager to please, and also confident enough to be just a little dangerous that it might offend. Zucker keeps the energy up and the laughs coming, so I can't see anyone objecting. Yet, the hazard of some of these jokes is frankly exhilarating.
Focusing intently on winding the tightly-coiled comedic spring, "Rat Race" never stops (or stoops) for transparent emotional asides. Though in the end it does go for the heartstrings just a tiny bit, there is already so much goodwill established in the film I can forgive the kindhearted (though implausible, even for this movie) conclusion.
Seriously, if you read the cast list for "Rat Race" before you saw it, you would run away screaming. This is not a troupe of actors that holds the greatest promise for entertainment. Miraculously, everybody dives right into the fun. "Rat Race" itself is already a go-for-broke comedy, but the actors seem hell-bent on proving just how zany they can get. The actors, and the laughs they earn, are consistent. The freedom Zucker allows them helps to sustain the yucks all the way to the final reel.
The standouts are Seth Green and Vince Vieluf as the two brothers who have swindled their way into the race. Green is an expert at sneaky, wiseass characters, but Vieluf really shines as the dim-witted brother with a freshly pierced tongue, thus unable to make sense to anyone except his brother. Green and Vieluf show an unusual gift for physical comedy, and they always brought that extra smile to my face whenever the film focused on their misadventures.
Though "Rat Race" is far from a perfect film, it nonetheless should be hailed as a mighty return to the comedic art form of the farce. An art form that has been severely compromised recently by a younger generation that hasn't a clue how to execute this type of comic absurdity. If "Rat Race" can help teach others how to have fun again, then its job is done.
Filmfodder Grade: B+