In this updated version of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” a billionaire Las Vegas casino owner sets up a gambling scheme in which betters wage on which of six candidates can find the $2 million that is hidden somewhere in a locker.
Knowing the mindset of today’s filmmakers, I expected this remake to be more like the coarse “Cannonball Run” than the non-offensive “Mad World.” How surprised and pleased I was that I finally found a comedy that made me laugh so hard, I nearly doubled over. I simply can’t remember the last time a comedy consisted of so much hilarity.
Containing the essence of “Mad World,” “Rat Race” parodies its central theme – greed. The six contestants and their assorted associates and followers will do anything to get that money. Their modes of transportation range from a bus full of gals on their way to an “I Love Lucy” convention, to a helicopter manned by a sweet young thing who discovers en route that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Then there’s the transportation-less Nazi-hating Jewish man who steals a Mercedes that once belonged to Hitler.
Unfortunately, writer/director Jerry Zucker (“Airplane!” “The Naked Gun”) doesn’t have a cast with the comic heritage of a Sid Ceaser, Milton Berle, Buddy Hacket, Mickey Rooney, or Dick Shawn. Nor is he able to supply a straight man such as Spencer Tracy, who turned out to have all the timing and facial expression of the film’s comic veterans. Nor does he have the finest background score ever found in a comedy. Thus, Zucker must rely on a few in-your-face crudities and gross-out situations to fill in the blank spots. Some of the visual antics even include animal mistreatment – a curious move for a comic filmmaker in times when animal rights activists have nearly as much clout as the NRA.
But Mr. Zucker does display a true love for tickling the funny bone and an acute ability to make it clear that all the violent slapstick is really harmless. Like watching the Keystone Cops, where victims are constantly thrown through the air with the greatest of ease, it’s clear that no one, including the animals, are really being injured. It’s much like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Zucker’s intent may not be to find a life-altering message about the wages of greed. “Mad World” was much more effective with that lesson. I think, however, that many will find the ending of “Rat Race” to be far more satisfying than that of its predecessor. The characters do learn a lesson.
Despite a few offensive words and one scene that displays the worst in bad taste, I found “Rat Race” to be the funniest movie I’ve seen since “Mad World.” But after reading the content, if you find it unsuitable for your family’s viewing, try my video alternative: “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” A non-stop laugh-a-thon as a group of motorists learn of a fortune buried 200 miles away. Besides all the visual and verbal gags, and its constellation of comic greats, “It’s a Mad…World” also contains some of the best car chases and stunts ever filmed.