Officially, Paramount Picture’s Rat Race is not a remake of MGM’s legendary ’60s ensemble comedy, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World. Too bad. A remake of something terrific would have been better than this disappointing original dud. The real stars of Rat Race are lots of cars — including Adolf Hitler’s Mercedes Benz and a Mach 1 rocket blaster — a busload of Lucille Ball look-alikes, a helicopter piloted by a crazy blonde in jodhpurs, a van delivering a human heart in an ice chest, and a hot-air balloon with a kidnapped Bessie–the-Cow. In essence, Rat Race is a string of sight gags showing the outrageous predicaments that can happen when you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But somewhere in the monster production tasks of this movie, director Jerry Zucker (A Knight’s Tale) lost his way. Rat Race has none of the goofy charm of his producing efforts on Airplane! and the Naked Gun series, nor the touching character development in the 1990’s love story, Ghost. In Rat Race, Zucker seems to have forgotten of a basic truth about humor: Its root is human. It’s the people in a movie that makes the movie funny. It’s what they say and do to each other, how they react to life’s curve balls, how they create a connection to the human beings sitting in the audience that makes a movie ring the comedic chord. From its telling title to its inane goody-two-shoes ending, everything about this movie displays disregard for the human element: Six ordinary people, chosen by chance in a Las Vegas casino, race one another to Silver City, Nev. to claim a $2 million prize. Unbeknownst to them, like rodents in a maze, they are merely pawns in a new game for roulette-weary high rollers. Playing second banana to the vehicle-crash scenes in this film is a gaggle of wonderful actors. There’s John Cleese, my vote for the funniest actor/writer on the planet (Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda, perhaps the most perfect comedy in recent history). In Rat Race, he’s just a shallow rich guy with false teeth. The most entertaining thing about Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) is her absurd frilly costume. She is not even given one scene worthy of her abilities in the whole movie, not even a funny line! The same lot befalls Cuba Gooding Jr. (Men of Honor), John Lovitz (TV’s Saturday Night Live) and Rowan Atkinson (British TV’s Mr. Bean). Mercifully, all is not totally lost. Kathy Bates (Misery) is hysterical in her one scene as the mad Squirrel Lady, and young Vince Vieluf (An American Werewolf in Paris) is truly hilarious as the gangly, megaphone-mouthed geek with the peanut-sized stud in his tongue. This kid’s gonna be a star. During its long weeks of production in Canada and America, everyone on the set of Rat Race must have been in stitches. To get your money’s worth from this movie, just imagine how much fun they all had behind camera. Then you won’t feel so bad that hardly any of that fun shows up onscreen.
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