January is the cinematic equivalent of the country club horse show, with award groups announcing their lists of last year’s worthies, earnest three-hour December releases clotting up theaters, everyone gearing up for Oscar season…. What better time to watch Jon Lovitz do a Hitler impression for outraged WWII vets? Rat Race is a big, unapologetic pratfall comedy aimed at audiences unashamed to confess they miss such things, and for that reason, the wind it breaks is quite welcome about now.
Director Jerry (”Airplane!”) Zucker’s return to manic comedy is no ”It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (but, admit it, neither was ”It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”). Same scavenger-hunt premise, though: Here, Vegas casino owner John Cleese (sporting massive teeth) sends eight mixed nuts through the desert in search of $2 million. The laughs and misfires depend on the specific performers: Seth Green and Vince Vieluf are fairly dire as dim brothers, while nasty family man Lovitz is a joy, and Rowan Atkinson plays a marvelous Italian boob who bears a suspicious resemblance to Roberto Benigni. Anyway, what can you say about a movie in which two characters fight while hanging from a hot-air balloon with a cow? Other than that you won’t see THAT in ”Gosford Park”?
WHAT WE SAID THEN: ”rowdy, bouncy, and acceleratingly funny…” (#610/611, Aug. 24/31, 2001) B+ — Lisa Schwarzbaum