Crank up the Acme Hollywood Remake Machine™ again, this time for The Rat Race, a remake of Stanley Kramer's It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, filmed in 1963 and is considered to be a true bona fide classic. I loved the original, which I saw when I was about seven years old - (strange how I can remember a film from 20 years ago, but cannot remember what I had for dinner last Tuesday!). The original featured comedy legends Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar and others racing madcap over the American southwest (Wacky Races style) for a huge pile of hidden money.
For those not familiar with the plot, it couldn't be simpler; six parties are told that a bag containing $2 million is located in a train station locker in Silver City, New Mexico by an eccentric zillionaire Donald Sinclair, played by John Cleese (with unbelievably white teeth). First one to get to it keeps it. There is only one rule - NO RULES.
Unbeknown to the contestants, while they race to the money, the zillionaire and his betting associates are gambling on the outcome. The contestants include:
- Vera Baker, a mother reunited with her long lost daughter Merrill (played by a big hair styled Whoopi Goldberg and Lanai Chapman)
- A narcoleptic, but extremely cheerful Italian Enrico Pollini (an ever reliable wobbly faced Rowan Atkinson)
- A disgraced NFL referee Owen Templeton, who is hiding in Vegas after a sudden-death play-off disaster (Cuba Gooding Jr)
- The Pear family - headed by a selfish and unscrupulous father, Randy, and an unhelpful wife accompanied by their two annoying children (an excellent turn out by Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy)
- Two bumbling, wannabe con artists, brothers Duane and Blaine ('wannabe' being the operative word as they are incredibly incompetent - played by Seth Green and Vince Vieluf in full on slapstick mode)
- And finally a very uptight lawyer-in-training, Nick (Breckin Meyer) who at first does not care for the game in the slightest, but when he accidentally finds a faster method to New Mexico decides to live a little and give it a try accompanied by his new girl, Tracey (Amy Smart)
Along the way the various groups meet many equally wacky characters and situations, including a very angry cabbie (Paul Rodriquez), an insane lady selling squirrels (Kathy Bates), a cheating boyfriend (Dean Caine), a creepy ambulance driver (Wayne Knight - Newman from TV show Seinfeld) on his way to New Mexico with a human heart for transplant, a bus filled with Lucille Ball impersonators, neo-Nazis, dykes on bikes, dishonest key cutters (don't ask), a flying cow, the theft of Hitler's touring car (definitely don't ask), the land speed record car and much more.
The whole time, as the parties' race, Donald Sinclair and associates follow the progress and have some brilliant side-bets along the way. Each one of the six keys to the locker, given to the parties, has an electronic tracker in it. Who, if anyone, will win?
The film starts with a very clever and energetic animated opening and after setting the groundwork of the race, lets loose with gag after gag. Not surprising really, when you discover than man behind this funny film is none other than comedy god, Jerry Zucker of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame. The humour is very slapstick and not the gross-out humour that seems to have plagued comedies since American Pie.
As for the performances, John Cleese, Jon Lovitz and Rowan Atkinson are stand out as always, but they have stiff competition by the younger members of the cast too. Vince Vieluf's dim-witted character is made even funnier by the fact he is made unintelligible by a mangled tongue piercing. Seth Green is funny as always and even Cuba Gooding Jr shows that he can do more than win just Oscars, with great comic timing.
The ending is a little slushy, but does not detract from the rest of the film. This is definitely a silly and downright stupid movie, totally ridiculous in places. Having said that, it will grow on you and win you over. You will be laughing out loud at times. So while The Rat Race will never win any Oscars, it is definitely a little epic of its own.
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