August 17, 2001 8:30am EST
In the same vein as the 1963 comedy romp It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and the 1981 The Cannonball Run Rat Race centers around a group of people who go dashing around the country for a big prize. In this incarnation the action starts in Las Vegas where billionaire hotel owner Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) gathers up eight people in his casino and sets them off on a race for $2 million hidden in a locker in New Mexico. He then places bets on whose going to get there first. The eight consist of two scheming brothers (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf) a disgraced NFL referee (Cuba Gooding Jr.) a mother and the daughter she gave up for adoption (Whoopi Goldberg and Lanei Chapman) a beleaguered family man and his wife (Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy) an uptight lawyer (Breckin Meyer) who hooks up with a cute helicopter pilot (Amy Smart) and a goofy narcoleptic Italian (Rowan Atkinson).
Like its predecessors Race combines a group of really talented comedians. Somehow this technique harms a film rather than helps it. It stems mostly from the fact that having such a large cast only gives the actors a limited amount of screen time. It's hard for any of them to truly shine. Yet in Race there are a few that just have to stand out. Cleese and Atkinson are among the best of the veterans especially Atkinson whose comedic physicality comes almost solely from his elastic face. And as far as the best of the younger set Green and Vieluf do a fair job having to wade through the horrendous antics presented to them shining for a brief moment when Vieluf (who can't speak properly because of his tongue stud) tells a sob story about their mother. However Goldberg Lovitz and Najimy are completely wasted--and Gooding Jr. just comes off as ridiculous.
In a nutshell Race is just too darn silly much like Mad Mad World was. Outrageous comedies work better in small doses such as There's Something About Mary or even Caddyshack. But when eight different story lines vie to outdo each other in outrageousness it's disastrous. Things can't get much worse than a car chasing after a hot-air balloon somehow hooking a cow to the balloon and having the cow end up hitting the windshield of a bus full of Lucille Ball look-alikes. Or how about crashing Hitler's car into a meeting of World War II veterans and having an ink mark on your upper lip that looks suspiciously like a mustache? There are a few brief moments where you chuckle out loud like when Cleese and his band of cronies start betting on which hotel maid would drop first while hanging from a curtain rod. Other than that the film simply lapses into pure drivel.