Rat Race stuck at the starting gate

Sitting down before Rat Race, I had high hopes of a movie that would not insult my sense of humour. The chances were good given the fairly impressive cast of Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cuba Gooding Jr. However, half an hour into the movie, my hopes quickly dissipated along with the flavour of my gum.

The plot was simple. Six keys, all of which open a locker housing $2 million, are given to a random group of people. The first one there keeps everything. Meanwhile, the man behind the scheme, Cleese, and his millionaire buddies place bets on the "rats" and sit back and watch in amusement.

The characters were simple and stereotyped by means of exaggeration. There was the professional, the punk kids, the family (right out of Lampoon’s Vacation series), the tacky simpleton, the estranged narcoleptic (whose episodes of course hinder him at the most inopportune times) and so on. As these characters take flight into desperate measures, the audience quickly realizes nothing should be taken seriously as anything could happen. And it does, regardless of plausibility.

Someone could be wandering around in the desert, and come across a rocket car demonstration (what better way to beat the clock!), steal a bus filled with I Love Lucy impersonators or try to run down a cheating boyfriend with a helicopter. Then there’s that cow dangling from a hot air balloon that somehow keeps reappearing to hinder or assist. Probably one of the most cringe-worthy scenes involves an organ transplant surgeon delivering a heart, who simply couldn’t resist the urge to pop open his cooler, take it out and have a "look-see." Need I remind you how slippery those things are?

Should I even mention the Dad who won’t stop so his daughter can go "number two?" I think you get the idea. And somehow, director Jerry Zucker seems to tie it all together by bringing Smashmouth into the picture–the icing on the cake.

At times, Rat Race is fun and there are definitely a few chuckle-worthy scenes. Most of them involve Cleese playing an "eccentric" gambling tycoon with flying colors, and Atkinson, who (and I hate to say it) was best in his Bean-like moments that did not involve his ridiculous Italian accent.

What is missing here is a little strategy and wit. Comedies don’t have to be extreme to be funny. Some of the funniest movies have been gentle helpings of subtle and intelligent humor.

Rat Race’s premise is an interesting idea overall, and it would be interesting to see how closely the desperation followed if this were playedout in real life. For the meantime, unfortunately, nobody wins in Rat Race.

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