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Rat Race (2001)
Rat Race is a 2001 comedy film directed by Jerry Zucker, written by Andy Breckman, and stars an ensemble cast, including Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jon Lovitz, Lanei Chapman, Seth Green, Kathy Najimy, Dave Thomas, Vince Vieluf, John Cleese, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Bates, Wayne Knight, Dean Cain, and Amy Smart. The main plot revolves around six teams of people who are given their task of racing 563 miles from a Las Vegas casino to a Silver City, New Mexico train station, where a storage locker contains two million dollars. The first team to reach the locker wins and gets to keep the money. The film has a similar plot to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Scavenger Hunt. Donald Sinclair, the eccentric owner of The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, devises a new game to entertain the high rollers who visit his hotel. Six special tokens are placed in the casino's slot machines, and the winners of them are gathered together and told that $2 million in cash is hidden in a duffel bag in a train station locker in Silver City, New Mexico. They are told they must compete in a no-holds-barred race to get there first and claim the money.
I know how bad it sounds. But thanks to the comedic talents of Jon Lovitz, Atkinson, John Cleese, and Whoopi Goldberg, plus a sharp script written by Andy Breckman (a writer for TV Funhouse and one of the best Richard Pryor movies, Moving) Rat Race is much better than it should be. In the end, it's summer junk food for the soul.
Through the orchestration of casino owner Donald Sinclair (John Cleese in one of best performances in recent years), six groups of people are brought together in a Vegas casino to race against each other in an attempt to reach a satchel of $2 million in locker 001 in the train station at Silver Lake, New Mexico.
The Pear family (headed by Jon Lovitz) finds its family vacation in Vegas interrupted, and the Cody brothers (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf) are two con artists whose personal injury suit against the casino goes awry. Mr. Pollini (Rowan Atkinson), an extremely cheerful but narcoleptic Italian man, represents the hare of this story. After falling asleep on the way out of the casino, he gets hit by a creepy ambulance driver named Zack (Wayne Knight) who is on his way to New Mexico with a live heart in a cooler. Owen Templeton (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a disavowed NFL coach who blew a major call and is drowning himself in alcohol at the casino's bar. Vera (Whoopi Goldberg) and her estranged daughter Merrill have reunited at the casino after Vera gave up Merrill for adoption years ago. Nick (Breckin Meyer) is an uptight lawyer-in-training. All of these clowns earn a shot at the money and head out across the desert.
Rat Race starts off with a mildly humorous tone and then unexpectedly ramps up to a full-blown gut buster. Jerry Zucker, co-director of such classics as Top Secret! and Airplane!, lends a veteran hand at handling the pace of the comedy and keeps the laughs coming in waves.
The main drawback of the film, though, is the lack of a solid third act. The humor completely dries up when all of the parties converge onstage with the band Smash Mouth. It ends up feeling like an old Three's Company episode. And about as funny.
Tons of extras -- tons! -- on the DVD release, including some iffy deleted scenes, a funny gag reel (including a scene with Gooding and his signature line), and, most bizarrely, a series of recorded telephone calls with the principal actors provided in lieu of a commentary track. It's strange, but oddly compelling. Kind of like the film itself.