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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Rat Race (2001)



Reviews and Comments

Rat Race is not quite a remake of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but it's the same sort of take on the same sort of idea. Assorted strangers are given a chance to race across the country to collect two million dollars in cash, stowed in a locker in the town of Silver City, New Mexico. On the way, the characters resort to all manner of underhanded shenanigans, and everything that can go wrong does.

While nowhere near the caliber of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, there are a lot of laughs to be had in Rat Race. The trouble is, the jokes that don't work are not just ineffective but downright painful. The scene were Cuba Gooding Jr. tries to swipe a bus driver's uniform is excruciatingly unfunny, as is another scene where Wayne Knight coaxes Rowan Atkinson to sneak a peek at the cargo he's carrying in his van. These scenes don't make internal sense, even within the twisted rules of comedy, and so when the actors make exaggerated screams and gasps and chokes and desperate cries that we are supposed to sympathize with but in actuality don't even understand, it's, well, irritating.

But most of Rat Race ranges from amusing to hilarious. I loved a near-perfectly timed scene of comic escalation involving a herd of cows. I loved the antics of a roomful of gambling addicts. I loved one character's expedient solution to his daughter's need for a rest stop.

One of the real pleasures of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was its talented cast, which, besides being a pleasure to see on the screen together, were experienced comedians that knew just how to sell the material. Rat Race's cast is unquestionably inferior as a whole, and maybe it would have been funnier with a better one. Still, there are a few fun cameos, and John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson, both members of the main ensemble, are right at home here, funny even when the material is not.