Rat Race” is a loving salute to the spirit of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” a splendid salute to slapstick that featured just about everyone who happened to be in Hollywood in 1965. “Rat Race” has an all-star cast playing characters who all want to be the first one to a $2 million treasure and will do anything — ANYTHING to get it. It is outrageous, cheerfully vulgar, undeniably lowbrow, and very, very funny.
John Cleese plays a Donald Trump-style casino owner who has a plan to attract the really high rollers. He will let them bet on a race between creatures who can think, plan, and lie — humans. Six randomly selected customers of the casino are each given a key to a box in a train station in Utah. Inside the box is $2 million, and the first one there gets it all. The six include Rowan Atkinson as a narcoleptic Italian, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a disgraced football referee (he blew the call on the coin toss), Whoopi Goldberg as a woman just reunited with the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, Brecken Meyer as a conservative lawyer who always plays by the rules, Jon Lovitz as a father on vacation with his family, and Seth Green and Vince Vieleuf as small-time con artists. Along the way, they meet up with the prettiest helicopter pilot in the world (Amy Smart, brilliantly funny), neo-Nazis, real-life superlawyer Gloria Allred, a rocket car, a truck driver delivering some very important and delicate cargo, and a bus full of Lucy impersonators. There is a lot of good, old-fashioned, hit-on-the-head humor, but it’s like a Road Runner cartoon — everyone bounces back without a scratch in the next scene, ready to get right back into the game.
Director Jerrry Zucker, shows the sure hand with sight gags that brought us “Airplane!” While this does not have that movie’s surreal moments of comic ecstasy, its stronger narrative coherence and more interesting characters make it almost as satisfying. All of the performances are delights. Kathy Bates’s brief cameo as a woman who really likes squirrels and Amy Smart’s expression when she dive-bombs her cheating boyfriend (played by TV Superman Dean Cain), Vieluf’s encounter with his multi-pierced dream girl, Seth Green’s encounter with a monster truck rally, and Kathy Najimy’s encounter with the Barbie Museum are among the funniest movie moments in years. And the final resolution beats “It’s a Mad…World” by a thousandfold.
Parents should know that the PG-13 rating comes from some vulgar humor, including bathroom jokes, a weird proposition made to a prostitute, an offensive porn movie title, and a cross-dressing man. A multiply-pierced woman flashes her breasts as a way of flirting with a man she does not know (nothing seen).
Families who see this movie should talk about Brecken Meyers’s statement that “Good things take time, but great things happen all at once.” Why does money make people take such foolish risks? Who were you rooting for? Why? Compare the amount at issue in this movie with the amount that people were racing for in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Why is it so much more?
Families who see this movie will also enjoy “Airplane!,” “Top Secret,” and “Blazing Saddles” (all with some vulgar humor). And every family should watch “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.