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Paramount Studios presents
Rat Race (2001)

"We should've bought a squirrel."
- Vera Baker (Whoopi Goldberg)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: January 23, 2002

Stars: Rowan Atkinson, Lanai Chapman, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Wayne Knight
Other Stars: Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Paul Rodriguez, Amy Smart, Vince Vieluf, Charlotte Zucker
Director: Jerry Zucker

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor, partial nudity, and language
Run Time: 01h:52m:00s
Release Date: January 29, 2002
UPC: 097363368441
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BA-B+ B

DVD Review

There's a scene in Rat Race that is so brilliantly conceived, I didn't even notice I was being set up until the punch line hit and I was laughing myself silly. The gag involves Jon Lovitz, Hitler's stolen death car, and a bit of Eva Braun memorabilia, and even if Rat Race never quite tops this moment of inspired visual farce, it's worth seeing for the Nazi send-up alone. In creating Rat Race, director Jerry Zucker and writer Andy Breckman borrow more than a few pages from Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but manage to infuse them with the same gag-a-minute zeal as Zucker's Airplane! films to create a final product that's less a rip-off than a worthy homage. Honestly, I always found the concept of Kramer's film to be better than the execution, and I don't believe it has aged well. Likely in 40 years, Rat Race will look no better, but for me and my modern comedic sensibilities, I found it to be funnier than the picture that clearly inspired it. Eccentric billionaire Donald Sinclair needs something new to attract high rollers to his casino, so he orchestrates an amazing race (CBS copyright pending). He plants six gold coins in six different slot machines; the winners of each are automatically entered in a race from Las Vegas to a small town in Texas, a 560-mile dash for a cool $2 million.Zucker is known for his broad gags and delayed punch lines, are both are in effect here. Most of the comedy is very obvious and visually oriented, but that doesn't make it any less funny. There are a few great sight gags, like Seth Green being dragged through a field of cows while hanging onto a hot air balloon, that try their darndest to amuse even the stodgiest viewers, and largely, they succeed. It seems the theory was to throw every madcap situation at the screen and see what came off looking the most ridiculous, like the bus full of Lucille Ball impersonators or an outlandish, tasteless, but amusing gag with an organ donation gone wrong. Some of the best scenes cut back to the gamblers, as they amuse themselves by placing nonsensical bets (my favorite: which maid can hang onto the curtain rod the longest?). Not all of the material is funny, and a few of the storylines fall flat, but the pace is such that the bad jokes never kill the momentum. If the ending is a bit of a letdown, at least we get there without much in the way of gross-out body humor (and, in what may be a first for the new century, a total lack of fart jokes). IAMMMMW was populated by a cast of comic legends, but this time around, the players are more B-list than A, though it makes little difference. John Cleese is delightfully nutty is his rather small role, and obviously having a blast. I always enjoy the aforementioned Seth Green, who shows great chemistry with on-screen sibling Vince Veiluf. Other notables include Whoopi Goldberg, in her least annoying work since another Zucker picture, Ghost, and the always reliable Breckin Meyer. If some of the other characters, like Cuba Gooding Jr. and the rather embarrassing Rowan Atkinson, fail to click, it doesn't really matter. With such a huge cast, there's always someone new popping on-screen.A summer hit that actually had strong word of mouth repeat business, Rat Race is no comedic masterpiece, but still a worthy addition to a genre that hasn't been done in Hollywood for quite some time. Nowadays, I suppose large ensemble comedies are more trouble than they're worth (see the drama behind Town and Country), but if they all managed to be as infectiously fun as Rat Race, the audience, at least, would be better off.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This is a very nice transfer, certainly on par with the work Paramount has done with other recent theatrical releases. The color palate is very bright, and reproduced wonderfully, with bright, eye-popping visuals. At the same time, I noticed no over saturated, blooming reds. Black level is decent, and while the overall image is a tad soft, shadow detail is good, and fine detail is certainly above average. There are some scenes where speckles are visible on the print, but nothing major. Aside from a few instances of slight artifacting, this is a great looking, film-like picture. It's getting to the point where most transfers of newer films look very nice on disc, and happily, Rat Race is no exception.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mix sounds great, and is surprisingly active for a comedy, but still not something to use as demo-material. First of all, it is always important to note that dialogue is well anchored in the center channel, and is always clear. The front soundstage handles most of the action, and is surprisingly loaded with directional and panning effects, in both the score and the frequent astmospherics, like car crashes and explosions. The surrounds do provide some support in some of the more frantic scenes (and, amusingly, in the Lucy scene—hear "Wahhhhhhh!" in glorious 5.1!), filling out the mix a bit.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag ReelGag Reel
  2. The GigglesThe Giggles
  3. Jerry and Andy Call the Actors: Audio Interviews With the CastJerry and Andy Call the Actors: Audio Interviews With the Cast
Extras Review: Paramount has finally started labeling their discs as special editions, and their efforts certainly match those of most other studios. But wait, we don't get just a "Special Edition," we get a "Special Collector's Edition." I don't know about you, but I've already placed my order for three extra copies to lock away with my mint-on-the-card set of Titan A.E. action figures. No need to save for retirement now!Instead of a commentary track, director Jerry Zucker and writer Andy Breckman have included a feature entitled Jerry and Andy Call the Actors, apparently because they couldn't think of anything good to say themselves. Basically, the two do just that—call up the actors unexpectedly to get their on-set stories and opinions on the film. These are interesting because they were recorded when the film was still in release, so everyone is optimistic about how well it is doing, and more than happy to offer comments that are refreshingly free of PR fluff. While not as informative as a traditional commentary, this is nearly as worthwhile. However, it is not very well presented on the DVD. Instead of having the interviews run over the feature, Paramount has included them on a separate menu. Each call can be selected individually or with a play all function, but once you begin, you can't pause, fast-forward, or rewind without starting over. Plus the static images could present burn-in problems for those with large rear-projection sets. A nice idea, but flawed implementation.There's also a standard making-of documentary that runs 22 minutes, and aside from a few small segments on special effects shots, this is a useless puff piece. Over half the running time is spent introducing the characters, with lots of description of the plot and revelation (and ruination) of several good punch lines. Definitely not something to watch first—or at all, for that matter. There's around ten minutes of bloopers included. The Gag Reel runs just under four minutes, and is a typically lively clip with line flubs and gaffes set to the title song. There's a few funny moments, but nothing you haven't seen before. The Giggles is a 6-minute clip of actors Seth Green and Vince Vieluf trying to complete a scene without breaking into hysterics, and I bet it was way funnier if you were actually there. Finally, there's a deleted scenes gallery with 6 scenes deleted for pacing or because they weren't funny enough (mostly the latter). Some are worthwhile inclusions, I suppose, but I've always hated deleted scenes and these clips did nothing to change my mind about them. All in all, a decent package of extras, but downgraded a bit for the poor presentation of the audio interviews.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

In an era where every comedy seems to be trying to top the last Farrelly brothers gross-out gag, Rat Race is a nice surprise—a throwback to old-fashioned slapstick and broad visual humor. It's a lot of fun, if wildly inconsistent, and certainly worth a rental. Especially if you think cows are funny. Because man, I like The Far Side and all, but talking cows? Freaky.

 


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