Jerry Zucker, who made his mark in Hollywood with the Airplane! movies is getting a bumpy ride from critics with his latest film, Rat Race. With some, he flies high. Richard Schickel in Time magazine, for example, writes that he resists going "all cosmic about an agreeably funny, well-made comedy designed for nothing grander than relief from the August heat." But, he writes, for the most part "it's a fine madness." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times writes that the film is "the most old-fashioned, live-action comedy of the summer, and if you've seen its competition, you know that has to be a good thing." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News gives the film four stars and concludes: "The movie is over in a breezy 112 minutes, but it may be another half-hour before your sides quit aching." Fittingly, Dave Kehr, Mathews' predecessor at the Daily News, who reportedly was fired for writing too many negative reviews, writes a perfunctorily negative review of Rat Race for the online CitySearch website. "This is one nasty movie," Kehr writes, "driven by a sadistic spirit and a complete contempt for its characters." Like most critics, Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal compares the movie -- unfavorably -- to Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy extravaganza It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. "This ripoff ... has a few funny moments," he remarks, "but it's a sad sad sad sad example of what Hollywood is currently serving up ... as summer entertainment." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls the film "a true and scary dud," while Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal concludes: "Most of the movie is more obnoxious than funny with jokes that are too broad or too stale or both."
Ryan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Jennifer (Claire Forlani) first met on a plane when they were 12. He’s terrified of planes she promptly tells him about her first period so it’s granted that they don’t exactly click. Fast-forward to high school where they bump into each other again. Now he’s the school mascot she’s the homecoming queen. No sparks. Fast forward to college where he’s the geeky engineering major (yes you read correctly) and she’s the free-spirited rocker-dating Latin student. Finally here they become friends help each other with their love issues and despite their opposing viewpoints … well take a guess.
Prinze the BMOC in "She’s All That " is supposed to be an anal-retentive doofus. And while the pageboy cut (split down the middle) and glasses do little to mask his good looks he plays against type surprisingly well doing his best to rise above the cliché-filled script. Forlani who was calm and luminous in the sluggish "Meet Joe Black " still has "proper British upbringing" written all over her so she’s not really believable as an outrageous one-night-stander (she also looks too old for Prinze). Heather Donahue (showing a promising comedy career post-"Blair Witch") and Amanda Detmer make a great supporting cast but the show is stolen by an underused Jason Biggs. As Ryan’s woman-chasing roommate Biggs also gets the single funniest scene in the film which you’ll miss if you walk about before the credits roll.
"She’s All That" director Robert Iscove is back and using the same traits again. First we have the you-are-there flashback narration ("So I was watching him play with his band " a character might reflect in her dorm room and suddenly she’s sitting at the concert still in her pajamas). Then there’s the choreographed dance number. Disguised as a scene to show Ryan trying to loosen up at a "foam club" (like a car wash soapy water douses the dancers) it’s really an excuse to show off Iscove’s choreography background by having all patrons wiggle simultaneously to Apollo Four Forty’s "Stop the Rock." It’s cute and all but the biggest faux pas Iscove makes is having Ryan and Jennifer take a "walk" from Berkeley … and miraculously wind up at the Golden Gate bridge.