Rat Race

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Michael Eiff

Plot: What’s it about?

An extremely loose remake of 1963’s classic multi-star comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, this screwball comedy is directed by Jerry Zucker (Ghost), who himself comprises one third of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy team of Naked Gun fame. Drawing on his comedic past, Zucker follows new lines of outrageous events as a variety of simple people are woven together in a humorous Andrew Breckman (I.Q. and Sgt. Bilko) script. Filled with random characters and unlikely occurrences, this film is sure to take the viewer on an enjoyable, laughable journey.

Foremost among those characters is Donald Sinclair (John Cleese), an eccentric Las Vegas casino owner in search of newer, more exciting forms of gambling for a elite clientele whose tastes are just as eccentric. He thus creates a race for $2,000,000, pitting six “average Joe” teams against each other to claim this handsome sum from locker 001 in Silver City, New Mexico. These people have never met each other, and only find themselves competing against one another by chance — they’ve each received a special token from a slot machine in Sinclair’s casino. And once Sinclair explains to everyone the object of the anything-goes race, mayhem ensues.

The competitors are pro football referee Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding Jr.); narcoleptic foreigner Enrico Pollini (Rowan Atkinson, Bean); recently reunited mother and daughter Vera Baker (Whoopi Goldberg) and Merrill Jennings (Lanei Chapman, White Men Can’t Jump); two con artist brothers, the Codys (Seth Green, Austin Powers and Vince Vieluf, Clay Pigeons); moral lawyer Nick Shaffer (Breckin Meyer, Road Trip); and the peculiar Pear family, headed up by Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy (Sister Act). Initially, each of these competitors tries to get to Silver City by air, but when the Cody brothers destroy a radar tower, all the competitors are forced to find other and more hilarious means of transportation.

From the very beginning, Zucker found a way to introduce each of the characters and their personalities quite well, and even though he had so many different characters to balance, he did a good job overall. There was a little confusion with the vast amounts of jumping around from character to character and story to story, but it wasn’t a harsh editing job — the viewer got a sense of the flow from scene to scene.

Zucker also did a nice job with the supporting cast members, and kept them in the story only as long as they were needed. Furthermore, he never allowed any character (supporting or otherwise) to become overexposed to the point where they became annoying or unfairly dominant. This definitely helped in keeping the comedy fresh and welcomed, as well as making Rat Race an enjoyable ensemble comedy.

On occasion, he did spent a little too much time on one group, to the point where the viewer might begin to wonder about where the other characters were at in the story — particularly Enrico. The narcoleptic is avoided for a goodly portion of the film, and so when in the end, everything came together, there is the sense that there should have been a little more equality in each of the teams.

The situations and characters, however, could not have been as funny if not for Breckman’s truly unique script. Not everyone can write a comedy for an ensemble cast and pull it off, and though Zucker may have put the pieces into place, Breckman created those pieces. The imagination that went into each of the characters is a wonder in itself, and the mere novel idea of some of the situations alone is cause for laughter (especially with Sinclair’s eccentric side bets). Some of the sequences came close to crossing the line of tastefulness, but for the most part Breckmen and Zucker kept it in fair territory.

Breckman did follow a similar storyline from the 1963 comedic classic It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and it’s interesting to follow the similarities between the two. But there’s no way the actors in Rat Race can come close to the talent of the actors in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

But Rat Race has definite creativity and flows, for the most part, from start to finish without a hitch. Some ideas went a little too far or went on for too long, but never to the point where it became unbearable, and even the notorious moral of the story is wholesome and well played. Even though it’s not the pinnacle of modern comedy, it has plenty of laughs and it’s worth almost any viewer’s time.

Video: How does it look?

Sporting a bit more edge enhancement than we’re used to, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is rather good besides that. Being a brand new film to DVD, I would have thought that this would rank right up there with some of the better transfers that I had seen. Not so. Colors are great, however and the print used is out of this world. With not a lot of supplements or many audio tracks to take up the space (and thereby compromise the picture), I can say that I was a bit disappointed as to how this looks. Still there is no grain, no digital artifacting and the black levels were perfect. But the edge enhencement is a problem (albeit not that big of a problem) and shouldn’t be an issue here. It’s passable, but inexcusable.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio is a LOT better than the video, however, sporting a very aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Paramount, one of the only major studios to not experiment with DTS, could have had a very good track with the DTS as well. Still, it doesn’t exist, so I’ll proceed! Even the menus are very alive and active with surround effects. The cartooinsh violence and nature of the film leads the way for many surround effects and hardly any are missed. The dialogue is very natural and the action is very evenly spaced over all 5.1 channels. A great track here, color me tickled pink!

Supplements: What are the extras?

Paramount usually doesn’t do so, but this is labeled as a “Special Collector’s Edition”. For your money, you will get a rather unique supply of extras. The first, and most consuming, extra is the aptly entitled “The Making of Rat Race”. Running about 20 minutes, we are treated to plenty of scenes from the movie, clips of the actors and scenes from the actual making of the movie (hence the name). It’s the same sort of thing we’ve become so used to, but as I always say…it’s better to have it than not to! Jerry Zucker introduces 6 deleted scenes that were left out of the movie. I can see why these scenes were left out and so does Zucker. The movie got a bit long, even at 112 minutes. These can be played individually or all together. A gag reel is also included, and personally I always like these. They do show the actors yucking it up and even the superstars they are, make mistakes. This leads us right into a feature that is called “The Giggles”. Zucker seems to love it and just let the camera go on an on. Seth Green and Vince Vieluf cannot get their lines right and just keep laughing, though Vince seems to be more on cue than Seth. I found it mildly funny, but it got real old real quick. A feature that Jerry and Andy call a “commentary” is when they call all the actors of the movie. It’s voices only and is essentially them having phone calls with the folks from the movie. Some are at home, some in the car…it’s interesting, but again, gets real old. And not much information was learned about the movie as a result of these calls. Lastly, an Exclusive Interview with Zucker and writer Andy Breckman is a rather interesting featurette. They do seem to have some interesting information to share with us, moreso than the rest of the features. I’d watch this first. A theatrical trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen is also shown (which had me rolling in the theater, but not so much now). Overall, it’s a good disc, but the movie may or may not be your taste.

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