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RAT RACE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Amy Smart
Director: Jerry Zucker
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: January 29, 2002

“My name is Enrico Pollini. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Enrico is a girl’s name.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“No pun intended.”

“What’s the pun?”

Film ****

2001 probably delivered more crude and sexually driven comedies than it needed. I, myself, could’ve done without the stinkers Freddy Got Fingered and Tomcats. I was waiting for the genre to return to its roots, and with Rat Race, I believe it has. The movie is a dynamic throwback to the physically comedic-driven, star caper comedies of yesteryear. Rat Race, a slight reworking of the classic comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, boasts a one of a kind cast of comedic talents and puts them in a wacky plot which perfectly defines screwball comedy. Aside from that, there have been few movies that have made me prolong laughter for so many minutes, and this movie did that to me frequently. It’s hard to recall any other comedy this year, with the exception of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, that has made me howl to the point that I would have to watch the movie again just to catch the parts I missed from laughing too long.

The movie opens in Las Vegas and structures the plot by neatly introducing us the characters who will no doubt soon become participants in the race of the movie. We first meet clean-cut, non-gambling Nick Schaeffer (Breckin Meyer) who is in town for a friend’s bachelor party. Next, there is Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) a down on his luck NFL referee who’s actually on the run from the hundreds of fans who lost money thanks to the lousy call he made in overtime. Then there’s the Cody brothers, Duane (Seth Green) and Blaine (Vince Vieluf), two con artists whose cons are never quite successful. Blaine, in addition, acquires a pierced tongue mishap that causes him to speak in a most non-understandable lisp. We then have Vera Baker (Whoopi Godlberg), a scammer in her own right who’s just been reunited with her long lost daughter, Merrill (Lanai Chapman). Randy Pear (Jon Lovitz) is a dimwitted family man who’s taking his first family vacation in twelve years. Lastly, we have Enrico Pollini, played by none other than Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson. Enrico is an enthusiastic Italian immigrant who seems a little too enthusiastic about certain things, such as the hotel suite where he and the others meet for a special reception.

Billionaire hotel and casino owner Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) offers the eight strangers, who have been summoned together by chance, thanks to each of them winning a special gold coin at the slot machines, the true chance of a lifetime. He informs them that 2 million dollars is waiting for one of them to grab a hold of in Silver City, New Mexico. There are absolutely no rules, and the first one there keeps all of the cash. And so the race begins, and in a most funny way, as a few of them try to fool one another by saying they won’t take part in the race. After which they each take the stairs, instead of the elevator, and speed their way out of the hotel and on to New Mexico. Sinclair’s real motivation for devising this rare kind of race is one of the movie’s funniest qualities.

Like all road comedies, Rat Race demonstrates that getting there is half the fun, or in this case, more than half. Following a howling scene where Duane and Blaine attempt to prevent the others from getting there by plane, the participants have many numerous dilemmas. Owen, for one, picks the wrong taxi when it turns out the driver lost a lot of money thanks to his boneheaded call. Randy and his family, who are Jewish, find there family van’s tires slashed, and are left with no other option but to obtain the exact vehicle that once belonged to Hitler. Nick, who at first refused to participate, joins forces with a pretty helicopter pilot (Amy Smart), who soon catches her boyfriend cheating on her right from her chopper. Vera and Merrill hit a bump when there car goes off a cliff, leaving them with pretty much no transportation options until they hit a speeding rocket jet show. Duane and Blaine have many riotous encounters, including that of a put upon cow, and crashing none other than a monster truck show. As for Enrico, his only flaw is that he suffers from narcolepsy, which succeeds in preventing him from leading the race, which he did right at the beginning.

Director Jerry Zucker, who helped create the remarkably hilarious Airplane!, Naked Gun, & Hot Shots movies, has pulled off yet another comedy masterwork. Rat Race is not only one of my favorite movies of 2001, but certainly one of the funniest films to come about in sometime. If you’re looking for a howling screwball comedy with some good, sharp plotting, look absolutely no further.

Video ****

Paramount suits up one of their first big releases for 2002 with an outstanding turnout. The video presentation for Rat Race is flat out terrific in every sense of a perfectly good video transfer. The anamorphic picture enhances the huge scope of the movie, which includes many outrageous set pieces, such as the monster truck rally as well as the huge set used in the ending, which I won’t give away. Picture quality is enormously sharp and clear, and complete with the most wonderful array of colors I’ve witnessed on any recent disc. As far as this new year is concerned, Rat Race might as well be one of the first great releases, as well as one of the best to ever come from Paramount.

Audio ****

Comedies like Rat Race include a good amount of cartoonish action, and that’s why this particular audio transfer scores so high for a movie like this. The 5.1 presentation is high caliber, and nearly of big, theater quality. Paramount delivers the goods for a great sounding disc that provides nice use for surround sound. Everything from music, to crashing sounds, to dialogue, etc. are delivered a hundred percent in this presentation. Yet another high point for Paramount.

Features ****

Paramount once again lives up to their “Special Collector’s Edition” label, which is appearing very frequently from them nowadays. Included are two featurettes, The Making of Rat Race and an interview segment with Jerry Zucker and writer Andy Breckman. Also included is somewhat of a commentary track where Zucker and Breckman include commentary snippets from a good number of the cast members. Featured as well are some hilarious outtakes, including one such outtake that is a feature itself because it does standout as the funniest one, a deleted scenes compilation, a trailer, and a nice use of a menu screen.

Summary:

Truly the big comedy gem of 2001. Comedies rarely ever achieve the scale that has been achieved by Rat Race, which I’m sure is destined to become a comedy classic for years to come. A must see for a lot of huge laughs.