Talk about a throwback movie this week! Ordinarily, most Mondays each week are reserved for Macabre Movie Monday with some friends of mine. We screen a horror movie and talk about it. It’s a tradition that began with an American Horror Film graduate class I took as part of my M.A. at the University of South Florida. However, my roommate is not terribly fond of horror movies and I know he grows tired of them week after week. Haha. So, we agreed to watch a comedy this past Monday. I cannot remember how, but when we thought of a fun comedy to watch, my friend Dani and I almost in unison shouted Rat Race. Such a star-studded comedy. And other than SmashMouth, it really still holds up today. Well, SmashMouth and the fact that airport security is vastly different than it was when this was shot. Although I watched it when I was a kid, it’s amazing to look at it now and wonder why my parents allowed my sister and I to watch it. Well, I am glad they did because I have always thought of this comedy as one of my favorites. If you have never seen it, and enjoy watching comedies for which you can turn off your brain and laugh until you cry, then definitely watch this one. Let’s go back to 2001 and talk about Paramount Pictures’ Rat Race.
What do you get when you combine greed, money, Las Vegas, manipulation, the ticking time bomb plot, and a star-studded ensemble cast? You get Rat Race! Eccentric casino tycoon Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) selects 6 ordinary people (and by extension, their families) to race against each other for great fortune in Silver City, New Mexico. $2Mil is stashed in a locker in an old train station and there is only one rule for the lucky 6, “no rules.” Unknown to the lucky six, Sinclair is monitoring their every move with some of the biggest high rollers in the world who love to bet on any and everything. From the famous Venetian to Silver City, this group of people will stop at nothing to get their respective hands on the money first. Whether it’s commandeering a rocket car or crashing a WWII memorial service dressed as Hitler, there is little that will come between a contestant and the fortune that awaits!
Ensemble cast films are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as the medium itself. So, the fact that Rat Race is an ensemble movie is nothing unique or special; however, the fact that it is so incredibly successful in combining the subplots and individual adventures of the six racers with the main plot is something to be admired about this film. Each of the six (and their families) have a story within the main story of the film. The writers did an excellent job at spending just the right amount of time with the individual stories without sacrificing time spent with the main plot of the film. As I have mentioned in reviews before, whether film or television, no story exists without conflict; likewise, no comedy exists without “drama.” Many film scholars and writers describe the comedy genre as drama in disguise. Let me clarify a little bit. When the casual movie-goer thinks of drama, they typically think of a film that is rather heavy, primarily dialog driven, and mostly serious. Those same casual movie-goers would likely describe comedy as funny movie with lovable characters, witty dialog, lots of laughable moments, with little degree of seriousness about it. Well-developed and written comedies are those films who integrate humor into the conflict-driven drama between two or more people. In other words, a drama is primarily focussed on the drama of a situation whereas comedy is primarily focussed don the humor of a situation. The best comedies are those that have prolific conflict between characters, but a humorous twist is added to the mix. Why did I say all this? Because in order to understand the brilliance of Rat Race it is important to recognize that it holds up so well because it’s full of drama that has irony, satire, and facetiousness thrown into the mix.
Besides the writing, this film also successfully continues to cause uncontrollable laughter because of the fantastic cast. Just look at this list of leading talent: Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, John Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr, Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, and Kathy Najimy. In addition to that amazing list, you also have a great group of chief supporting players and an A-list cameo: Amy Smart, Wayne Knight, Dave Thomas, Dean Cain, Vince Vieluf, Paul Rodriguez, and Lanei Chapman, and special appearance by Kathy Bates as the squirrel lady. There were also many others extras and atmospheric players that helped pull together this brilliant comedy including the performance by 90/2000s hit band SmashMouth. All the elements are here for a successful comedy! Between the writing, directing, and this phenomenal cast list, how could this movie not do well??? On that note, the movie did not fair so well with critics then and even now; scores poorly on MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes (no surprise there), and IMDb. However, I argue that any comedy that can still hold up and significantly create a room full of laughter over and over, is a successful comedy. Comedies are seldom going to win awards, significantly contribute to the world of the arts, or serve as inspiration for someone; but Rat Race offers an escape from the doldrums of reality and whisks you away to an over-the-top world of money, hookers, gambling, crazy exes, a buss full of Lucys, and Nazis. It offers an incredibly entertaining journey that still has a heartwarming ending.
I think it’s the utter unashamed ridiculousness of the whole plot that keeps me entertained. Furthermore, it does such a good job of telling a funny story that is both clever and well-paced. One of the best parts of watching this movie is getting to feel like at least one of the leading or supporting characters. Each have a unique set of traits that can identify with someone of a similar personality. You’ll probably also see some of your friends as one or more of the characters. These characters are so much fun to watch and just when you think it can’t get anymore ironic, unfortunate, or satirical, it surprises you. Trying to remember the first time I watched it, and even to some extent this time, I remember thinking that it really isn’t that predictable. Not predictable in that it is so ridiculous! But that’s what I love about this comedy film. It sticks to a tried and true ticking-time-bomb plot with characters that are unconventional and unpredictable in every way. Well, mostly anyway. Haha. I think my favorite part of the movie is the Pear family crashing onto the stage at the WWI Vets convention in Hitler’s car with Randy (Lovitz) trying to speak but the cigarette lighter burnt his tongue and he has a Hitler mustache caused by Eva Braun’s dark lipstick. I know, right?!?
If you are ever looking to just kick back and enjoy a comedy that is guaranteed to make you laugh hysterically, then check out Paramount Pictures’ Rat Race (2001). Whether you just want to see some of your favorite Oscar, Golden Globe, or Emmy winners in an over-the-top comedic race to the finish or just a fun movie that will keep you entertained, this one is a winner!