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Rat Race
Special Collector's Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated: PG-13 (Sexual References, Crude Humor, Partial Nudity and Language)

Running Time: 112 minutes

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Amy Smart

Written by: Andy Breckman

Directed by: Jerry Zucker

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Exclusive Interview with Director Jerry Zucker and Writer Andy Breckman, Deleted Scenes, The Making Of Rat Race, Gag Reel, Outtake Scene, "Jerry and Andy Call The Actors", Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (15 Scenes)

Released: January 29th, 2002

 

 

What do you get when a sleepy Italian, a goody-two shoes up and coming career addict, a family man, a reunited mother and daughter, a hated sports ref and a pair of brothers who set out to claim two million dollars in cash? Why, crazy mad-cap comedy of course! A homage of sorts to the classic and irreverent "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," Jerry Zucker's comedic farce is a magnificent and pleasant surprise, and one of the best comedies to come along in YEARS.

Donald Sinclair (a great John Cleese) is a bored and highly wealthy casino owner, who think he's found a new way to please the mega wealthy high stake gamblers that play at his fine casino. What is it exactly? Track a few teams thanks to special tracking devices from his Casino in Las Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico. The teams are racing to go to a locker that contains a duffel bag with two million dollars in cash. The gambler(s) who bet which team will win, and the correct gambler(s) who bet will get a large jackpot. The players for this gambling game are chosen when each of them play a slot machine, and get a special coin that leads them to Sinclair. They don't know they are secretly being bet on, and why they are skeptical at first, they soon scramble to get the loot. Along the way, a few players meet others who give them assistance and their paths intertwine. I hate to say more, but it all leads to a lot of wackiness... Nazis, Lucys and cows... and a whole lot more.

As any film buff can probably tell you, it's hard work writing a comedy that actually works and that is actually funny. Comedy is a hard subject to reach to people as different people laugh at different things. There's a whole tone to it, and getting it just right and making something funny needs to feel natural. Andy Breckman, however, has written such a far-out and incredible script that really has something for everyone. Breckman's imagination has no limits, and that's a good thing. Besides his wacky premise, the characters he creates on this mad scramble are truly memorable and truly funny, as they all have all sorts of different reactions and feelings toward things. Even though the characters are stereotypical in some senses, and aren't fully developed, that's the point. The characters are regular people and are believable, and they are made that way for the sake of the film. Breckman, a former "Saturday Night Live" writer, has tons of witty lines and all sorts of crazy comedy that is just tremendously enjoyable. He has really created a comedy with such great appeal, and that is funny and that it works so well thanks to his visual gags and sharp dialogue.

Equally amazing is Jerry Zucker pulling all of this off. Zucker, who I really think is one of the most notable directors still working today and is no stranger to comedy, really pulls it all off. He is the mastermind behind this movie, and I think it is because of him that it works so well. He creates a smooth flow to the film, while creating great setups, impressive visuals are funny and bringing some depth to such a fun, great and simple film.

My complaints with the film are pretty minimal. First off, I'm surprised some of Breckman's plotting that is really unnecessary actually made it into the film. The most notable thing about that is we learn at the start that Vera Baker (Whoopi Goldberg) is meeting up with her daughter who she gave up for adoption (the two become a team in the race). The scene is supposed to be funny I guess with the cocktail waitress and the cell phone bit, but I really didn't find it to amusing. Maybe others found it more amusing than me, but what I didn't like about it is how it's set-up of the two reuniting, but fails to go anywhere with it. They act like a normal mother and daughter, or even more like two friends I suppose. But the fact is that they barely know one another, and I found their relationship to be greatly exaggerated. If the two got in a fight and explored their background and got to know each other somewhat throughout the film and course of comedy, it would have been more believable and I wouldn't be complaining. I just felt that the two reuniting really didn't make sense within the context of the film.

My other complaint is more or less opinion. While the ending is pretty funny and very suiting, I was a bit disappointed by it. It does fit the film, but perhaps I was expecting something a bit more wacky, more crazy and a bit more funnier. Still, I like the ending a lot better than when I originally saw it, and is actually a good way to end the film the more I look back on it.

The original plan for "Rat Race" was to attract big name stars to the film, and hopefully, some twenty million dollar actors would work for scale. It turns out that plan did backfire, however, the actors that Zucker did pull together are just as great (or perhaps arguably better) and just as reliable. The likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Paul Rodriguez, Seth Green, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Wayne Knight, Amy Smart, Breckin Meyer and Jon Lovitz... plus a few more, such as Kathy Najimy and Dave Thomas. All of these actors have a great knack for physical comedy and bring the personas of all these characters to full life. It's a bit hard to describe, and really must be seen to enjoy and fully understand what I'm talking about. The way they interact, the competition and how it all goes... this cast may not be incredibly giant names, but they have each made their respected mark and are known, and work together here incredibly, and I mean incredibly well. All the performances are excellent, but Jon Lovitz really stands out. I've been a fan of his films, work on "Saturday Night Live" and other work ("The Critic"!) for years. As family man Randy Pear, Lovitz is simply hilarious and sly. He truly shows what a comedic talent he is.

I rarely see movies in the theater twice... but "Rat Race" was just that enjoyable the first time, I had to go again. Before "Rat Race," I seriously can't remember the last movie I did go to see more than once. It's really that funny and it's really that good. The first time I laughed my ass off, and the second time I laughed even MORE. I was expecting to laugh less, and I was quite surprised that I laughed even harder the second time around. Upon viewing the film again on DVD... I still laughed and laughed and laughed. This is a true testament of how some films are still funny, and perhaps, even funnier with repeated viewings and that great comedy never dies. While the film did a pretty decent box office take, I seriously do hope "Rat Race" finds an even bigger audience on home video. What are you waiting for? The shotgun firing to begin? Go out and get this!

 

 

"Rat Race" is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it's all here in anamorphic widescreen. The film, as I mentioned, features a load of visual jokes, many fully encompassing the widescreen aspect ratio to it's absolute best. I'd hate to watch "Rat Race" in pan and scam... a good deal of beauty in most of these shots would be lost in the process. I'm not sure if they'd ruin the visual jokes exactly, but I feel there's more to get out of the film where there's more space in the shots to get Zucker's vision across and how it was really meant to be seen... a lot of shots here are simply marvelous. A lot of "Rat Race" takes place in exterior locations, and these locations do vary. Whether from the sunny desert to the open road, a lot of this transfer changes constantly and it keeps up with it quite nicely. The image is incredibly crisp and sharp, giving off a true and natural 3-D feel to it. Toward the start of the movie contrast is a bit high, but it adjusts perfectly after a few minutes, and film grain goes down a bit as well. Colors are perfectly saturated to their fullest and best. The hard edged interior scenes look very nice and realistic, while the reds from the Lucys to the greens of the fields, there is a lot to experience here. Detail is some of the best I've seen in a very long time, while black levels are dead on too. I noticed some noise rarely, as well as some nicks and blemishes, but they were never distracting. Another fine and incredibly strong effort from Paramount.

 

I was expecting quite an experience with the 5.1 Dolby Digital English track, and that's what I got thankfully. This track is extremely active and doesn't slow down... it's quite a race all right, and it's one fast, furious and intense race as the 5.1 track really puts you in all the hilarious comedy, (mis)adventure and action the film offers. John Powell's frenzied and well paced score is well mixed throughout all of the channels, while dialogue is crisp, clear and easy to understand as the other sounds (there are a load of sound effects) do not overpower the dialogue while other sounds don't overpower other surrounding sounds. There is seriously an incredible amount to take in here, not to mention some wonderful bass extension that can really shake your floor. From the clangs of chains the motorcycle gang hails at the Hitler car, the monster truck scene, cars screeching and moving fast, a little something getting hit by a fast moving train, a wild helicopter ride, background crowd noises, cow noises and a load more of wild, wacky and fun noises that boom, crash and delight with glee... all well mixed through the speakers as they have great power and sound really, really good. The 5.1 features great pans, imaging and truly wonderful dynamic range. No complaints here... if you can't take advantage of the 5.1 track, there's Dolby Surround tracks in French and English plus English subtitles, French subtitles and English closed captions. Enjoy!

 

Bearing Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" label, "Rat Race" may not be as jammed pack say as Forest Gump or Beverly Hills Cop, but features some nice features that any big fan of the movie, such as myself, will enjoy. There's a load of quality and stuff to get out of that makes up for the quantity (namely, the phone conversations). First up, is The Making Of Rat Race. Taking clips from the trailer, clips from the film and behind the scenes footage, this pretty promotional documentary of sorts has a nice, laid back approach to it. Seth Green, Jerry Zucker, Jon Lovitz, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Breckin Meyer, Rowan Atkinson, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and more are interviewed throughout. The actors talk about their parts and the plot a bit, while Zucker and Breckman talk about more production aspects. This feature is broken up into the characters, actors, locations, the comedy and a whole lot more. It's a nice watch and despite it being promo-ish, there's a good deal to enjoy and get out of from here.

There are six Deleted Scenes: "Highroller," "Monopoly," "Lucys," "Ricky Bus," "Moving House" and "Talking Cow." These aren't that funny and don't go well with the film, but brief intros from Jerry Zucker before more or less explain most of these were cut because test audiences did not like them. They're pretty short, but the "Moving House" scene did make me chuckle, while the "Talking Cow" scene, which is really short and never even tested, doesn't quite fit with the film.

The Gag Reel is a bit under four minutes, and is pretty funny, though I wish was longer... I'm sure there was a load of more on-set zaniness. It's played to the film's main song shown at the opening credits. Also on the first page of extras we have A Conversation with Jerry Zucker & Andy Breckman. Lasting a bit over eight minutes, we can see the two go way back and have a good working relationship and have a fun attitude toward things. These guys, of course, have a great sense of humor. It has clips from the films over their voices at points or just show in their entirety, but the two discuss the finer points of making the movie as we also see some stills of the script. The two discuss changing some little things around, accomplishing some stunts and more. Worth a watch for sure... it's not promo and seems to be made for the DVD, and is a pretty great watch.

Jerry & Andy Call The Actors is a tremendously fun audio bit, where the writer and director call the actors... more or less all of them especially for this DVD release. Vince Vieluf, Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Cleese, Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Lanai Chapman, Breckin Meyer, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Smart, Wayne Knight, Paul Rodriguez, Charlotte Zucker (Jerry's Mom) and Rowan Atkinson. The two pester, make jokes, ask the actors about making the film, reminisce sorta and just have fun... Breckman and Zucker are somewhat giddy, and this is just a pretty cool feature and a whole lot of fun. Breckman and Zucker mention recording a commentary, and it may seem that these phone recordings were going to be edited somehow into the commentary... but instead, they include all the phone conversations... since there is no commentary on the DVD. These can be quite lengthy and a lot of fun... in a way it does make up for the lack of commentary even if Zucker and Breckman get sidetracked with the actors themselves instead of talking about the film with them. Listen to these if you're a fan of the actors and/or liked the movie.

Rounding the DVD out is The Giggles, a really fun outtake scene from the end of the movie that keeps going and going. It lasts a bit over five minutes including Zucker's introduction. Finally, we have the non-anamorphic widescreen Theatrical Trailer. Thankfully it doesn't give away the movie's best bits.

There is some nice stuff here, even if it's not as funny as one may hoped. I'm glad Zucker took a pretty active part on doing supplementary material, but I was a bit disappointed to learn that there was no commentary included despite the fact that we learn that Breckman and Zucker were in the studio recording a commentary. It was originally announced when the DVD was announced, and is even referred to on the DVD, so it makes you wonder a little. I would have really liked to hear what he and Breckman would have to say about all the specific parts of the film. It kind of bugs me why Paramount failed to include the commentary... or why it was not included, but the DVD may offer a reason why. It seems from the phone conversations Breckman and Zucker hit a slump while recording, and maybe they weren't happy with the commentary and how things were going. Who knows. I think getting those two and the whole cast in a room together would have been a blast. Ah well, the supplements here do satisfy and is truly better than nothing at all. On another note, Paramount has included subtitles on their extras like usual and nicely, and the menus fit quite nicely with the film itself.

 

"Rat Race" is a delightful comedy from start to finish that is filled with great one-liners, visual jokes and ensemble acting. This is great fun for just about anybody. I personally felt "Rat Race" was the best movie from the summer of 2001, and truly one of the best of the year (notice how comedies barely make critics' top ten lists?). This DVD features some very cool extras and a top notch presentation. If you missed it in theaters, you must check "Rat Race" out on DVD. Fans of the movie, go out and buy this puppy... it's a fine comedy for anyone's collection.