Dec 16, 2011

[Movies] Rat Race (2001)

Rat Race reminded me a lot of the older brand of comedies that used to dominate movie theaters. The ones that generated sequel after sequel like Airplane! or even The Naked Gun, however this one just wasn't as funny. If anything, it's clearly one of those movies that relied on the sheer number of comedians involved to make it work as opposed to having a decent story to tie everything together.

Admittedly, we only watched this movie as a weird offshoot of my recent hankerings to watch A Fish Called Wanda. From a Six Degrees of Separation mindset, the only actor in common is John Cleese. that's what I had to work with at the time - it's not much, but I'm not afraid to admit the tenuous link here.

Perhaps this was a classic case of having too many cooks involved in a project, metaphorically speaking. All are decent enough comedians in their own right with their respective brands of humor and acting styles. But when mixed all together like it was in this movie, the result just left a weird taste in my mouth,

Rat Race is a 2001 comedy directed by Jerry Zucker (which would explain why I was reminded of the older comedies) with a screenplay by Andy Breckman.

The movie centers around a bizarre contest arranged by one Donald Sinclair (John Cleese), the owner of The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas and a wealthy billionaire. But since conventional bets see too dull for him and his associates, he arranges for a mad cross-country race between six teams of people. While they don't know that they're the subject of a gambling bet, what they do know is that whoever gets to a certain train station locker in Silver City, New Mexico will get their hands on 2 million dollars in cash.

As determined by a special chip dispensed by the slot machines, the six teams are as follows. There's recently reunited mother and daughter Vera (Whoopie Goldberg) and Merrill (Lanei Chapman), the eccentric Italian Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson) and disgraced football referee Owen (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) There's the Pear family - Randy (Jon Lovitz), Bev (Kathy Najimy), and their kids Jason (Brody Smith) and Kimberly (Jillian Marie Hubert). There are the con artists brothers Duane (Seth Green) and Dave (Vince Vieluf) Cody. And there's the lady's man Nick Schaffer (Breckin Meyer).

As expected, the various "teams" each get into their own misadventures on their way to Silver City, which runs like a showcase of various sketches better suited for a TV show of sorts. And they're not particularly funny sketches - more often than not they just generate uncomfortable situations or moments of awkwardness. When I get to say that movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun had a more cohesive story than this movie, you know that I'm coming from a very strange place.

To be fair, the premise isn't an entirely new one and we've seen similar ideas in other movies and TV shows. In addition, this movie predates the rampant rise of reality television, so it did feel a bit weird to think about how the gamblers were able to follow the action without a horde of TV crews following the teams around. In a more modern context, this wouldn't be some elaborate secret gambling bet. Instead it would be a nationally televised event that would be celebrated on the internet - which does say something about the trends in reality television today.

English: Cuba Gooding Jr., star of "Men o...
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It's hard to determine who disappointed me the most in this movie. John Cleese didn't have that much airtime and when he was on he did seem like a random character from Monty Python. Oscar award winning actress Whoopie Goldberg so wasn't in your comedic best here and her character of Vera was pretty badly written. And Oscar award winning actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. seemed to be a caricature of himself or the types of roles that O.J. Simpson used to fulfill in The Naked Gun movies.

I know, I know, I keep going back to those comedies. I cite them so much since I have to admit that I like The Naked Gun and the Mel Brooks era of comedies, which clearly was the peg here. But for some reason it just didn't come together and the whole thing just felt dry and painful to watch.

Rat Race is not a good example of what a comedy movie should be any more and I can understand why studios figured gross-out comedies (which I loathe) were the better option. The movie still gets by with 2 expected crazy antics the teams get into in order to get to the prize out of a possible 5.

Oh, and Smash Mouth was in this movie for some reason.

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