Forgotten movies: “Rat Race” (2001) holds up surprisingly well and even has social commentary similar to “Squid Game.”

This was one of the first PG-13 movies I was allowed to go see as a kid without my parents. I remember seeing it with one of my friends and thought it was hilarious. It ended up being one of the first DVDs my family bought and we rewatched it all the time, back when rewatching movies was something people did pre-Netflix.

My dad's favorite comedy is “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” which he had recorded off of TV onto a grainy VHS (commercials and all), so I knew even back then that it was somewhat of a loose conceptual remake, but with a then-starry cast of Cuba Gooding Jr (fresh off his run of post-Oscar roles but before his career went off the rails entirely), Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Lovitz (when he was a billable costar), Breckin Meyer (what happened to him?), Seth Green, Vince Vieluf (what happened to him?), Amy Smart (one of my first celebrity crushes – what happened to her?), Lanei Chapman (what happened to her?), Wayne Knight (Newman!), Dave Thomas (SCTV!), John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson.

It was also directed by Jerry Zucker (part of the famous ZAZ trio behind Airplane, Naked Gun, Top Secret) so it has similar zany comic sensibilities.

I woke up unusually early this morning and was trying to kill time. I watched RLM's review of Halloween Kills where they mentioned Mad World and it made me think of Rat Race. So I saw it was on HBO Max and figured I'd see how poorly it had dated.

To my surprise it's held up pretty well despite having a lot of overtly early-2000s flourishes (within the first 20mins there are a couple gay/trans jokes that would never be made today, for example, and Smash Mouth literally has a role in the film).

But it is funny as hell. The way the characters are established and the plot careens forward gives it a propulsive comic energy and you like most of the characters. It's also hard to see why some of these actors' careers fell by the wayside because they are genuinely funny. Vieluf and Green have good chemistry together for example, and Lovitz is easy to hate on but I had forgotten how hysterical that scene is where he ends up at a Nazi museum and how it builds into a later payoff.

And beyond that it does have some social commentary that, oddly enough, is really similar to Squid Game wherein a rich capitalist tycoon – Cleese doing a British riff on Donald Trump before it was trendy to satirize Trump – pits the contestants against each other for rich billionaires to monitor them from behind a hidden mirror where they place their bets on who will win. I don't want to say this movie is some subtle, insightful critique of capitalist society but for being a goofy, dumb comedy some of these themes seemed remarkably ahead of their time upon rewatching today or at the very least helped it hold up a bit.

It seems like for whatever reason this movie is very rarely discussed or referenced nowadays (maybe partly because so many of the cast members are “has beens” and the ending with Smash Mouth is sort of cringy to watch, maybe because a lot of the humor is decidedly non-PC), but I think there's probably a lot of milliennial kids from my generation, who are now adults, and might have some nostalgic memories similar to mine who'd get some enjoyment out of revisiting it. It's not a comic masterpiece by any means but it holds up a LOT better than some other childhood films I've gone back to. I was almost hesitant to watch it for fear that I'd be embarrassed by it, but I genuinely enjoyed it and thought I'd see if anyone else felt the same way.

What do you think?

12 Points
Upvote Downvote

Leave a Reply