Tag Archives: Kathy Najimy

Rat Race (2001, Jerry Zucker)

If you had told me there was a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as a plot point (a positive one), I don’t know I would’ve believed it. But if there is going to be a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as in a positive cameo… it’s going to be a movie like Rat Race. Rat Race is a big budget situation comedy masquerading as a madcap comedy adventure. Cleese is a Las Vegas casino owner who sends six or seven or twelve random people on a race from Vegas to New Mexico. Whoever gets there first gets two million dollars. Little do the contestants know Cleese has arranged the whole thing as a bet for a group of high owners at the casino.

Though it wouldn’t matter much because the stuff with Cleese and the high rollers is just for interlude gags.

The main race contestants are Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jon Lovitz. Maybe not in screen time (but maybe in screen time, it’s not worth counting), but definitely in extreme gags. Gooding at one point has stolen a charter busload of “I Love Lucy” Lucy cosplayers and Lovitz kind of kidnaps his family to go on the race with him (he doesn’t tell them about the race because he’s Jon Lovitz and it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a liar). Then there are the couples. Breckin Meyer is a pointlessly straight-laced young lawyer (his character details don’t matter at all) who gets helicopter pilot Amy Smart involved in the race; he’s crushing on her, she’s not crushing on him. Whoopi Goldberg was at the casino to meet long-lost daughter Lanai Chapman; not long-lost but Goldberg gave her up for adoption. Again, the character details don’t end up mattering at all. Once the couples are paired, they’re paired. Like idiot brothers Seth Green and Vince Vieluf (who apparently dropped his agent for not getting him more face time on Rat Race promotional material, but should’ve sued him for letting him do the role, which has him suffering from an infected tongue ring piercing and unintelligible the whole time—Andy Breckman’s screenplay never goes cheap or obvious when it can do both at once). Green’s the weasel, Vieluf’s the dumb lug. Evil George and Lenny, basically. They talk about splitting up for about a half hour of the film’s near two hour runtime but never actually get around to it. Breckman’s script also has its red herrings to fill runtime.

Because somehow it matters Rat Race goes on for near two hours? Like the runtime is going to give it legitimacy.

The last contestant is Rowan Atkinson, who appears to have done Rat Race in yet another attempt to breakthrough in the Colonies. Snideness aside, Atkinson’s great. Everything he does is great. Even when it’s in his dumb subplot involving jackass ambulance driver Wayne Knight and a transplant heart.

Rat Race is kind of a catch-22. The subplots are so bland, you need someone as bland as Meyer do one of them. And, frankly, Smart too. They’re both middling. She’s a little better, but only because Meyer’s unable to appear to listen or think. Green and Vieluf do a lot of terribly executed, large scale physical humor. Director Zucker isn’t necessarily really bad at the giant sight gags, it’s just he’s using CGI and it’s poorly done. And Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is bad. It’s more often less competent than competent. So you don’t care Green and Vieluf are one-note because the scenes are so perfunctory, even when they’re effective. Zucker’s got a couple good shots in the movie—establishing shots for the large-scale sight gags—and they’re the same shot. It’s like he has one good shot, but only two opportunities to use it. The rest of the time… middling direction.

Cleese too. He’s really funny. Especially with those fake teeth. But it’s a movie where the joke is John Cleese in some obviously fake fake teeth.

Dave Thomas has a really small part and, much like Atkinson, is able to get away successful. Goldberg isn’t bad, she’s just not successful. The movie ditches her and Chapman pretty quick, after one really funny sequence.

Gooding and Lovitz are both… inoffensive, while managing to also be the least sympathetic characters in the film. Maybe because Gooding’s supposed to somehow be inherently sympathetic because he’s a victim of unfair public shaming and because Lovitz is supposed to be saddled with an annoying family (wife Kathy Najimy wants to see David Copperfeld instead of gamble and spend time with husband Lovitz because… harpy?; the kids are just annoying, but end up being sympathetic because Lovitz is… Lovitz). I already said Atkinson is great. Who else is there… Green and Vieluf. Vieluf’s more likable than Green and probably better. Green just mugs.

Last thing. The music. Not the Smash Mouth performance, which sucks, but the “score” by John Powell, which reuses familiar classical ditties like In the Hall of the Mountain King and some also La Traviata. Trust me, you’ve heard the music. Probably in television commercials because it’s effective music. Just culturally rote. And that music ends up in some big set pieces, so it’s unclear what Powell’s actually bringing to the film other than making it sound consistent with a television commercial.

Rat Race is cheap and obvious but occasionally funny and usually inoffensive.

And Atkinson is exceptional.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Zucker; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Tom Lewis; music by John Powell; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Sean Daniel, Janet Zucker, and Jerry Zucker; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Owen Templeton), Jon Lovitz (Randy Pear), Rowan Atkinson (Enrico Pollini), Breckin Meyer (Nick Schaffer), Amy Smart (Tracy Faucet), Seth Green (Duane Cody), Vince Vieluf (Blaine Cody), Whoopi Goldberg (Vera Baker), Lanei Chapman (Merrill Jennings), Kathy Najimy (Beverly Pear), Wayne Knight (Zack Mallozzi), Dave Thomas (Harold Grisham), and John Cleese (Donald P. Sinclair).


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WALL·E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

WALL·E might be the first major Hollywood production not to feature a speaking protagonist in a while. I can’t remember the last one. WALL·E, the robot, makes some emotive sounds and mispronounces his girlfriend’s name, but he communicates through action, not through verbalization. It’s rather effective, since the robot’s supposed to be adorable and Pixar’s animation team goes above and beyond. The robot’s utilitarian in design, but everything else is precious (though the eyes aren’t particularly pragmatic).

The first half of the film is a solid, interrupted romance, with WALL·E finding a girl robot, Eve, who’s beginning to return his affections. Until he, inadvertently, causes her to shut down. This development doesn’t just make the opportunity for lots of cute scenes with the concerned WALL·E, but it also kicks off the rest of the narrative. WALL·E‘s got an interesting narrative–it’s a little short, but it’d be hard without dialogue to flesh it out and dialogue would ruin it–with two plots (the fate of WALL·E and Eve and the fate of the human race) intricately tied, but still somewhat unconnected. It’s because the moving parts of WALL·E are the romance (which reminds a lot of Broadway Danny Rose in that simple, but staggeringly affecting way). The human race and its problems mostly concern Jeff Garlin being really funny as the primary human character.

But director Stanton takes an approach to the future–and particularly the space–I haven’t seen in quite a while. There are lots of homages (2001) and references. The scenes on the decimated future Earth, polluted to all hell through mismanagement from a Wal-Mart stand-in–WALL·E‘s not just pro-environmentalist, it’s one of the most anti-corporate mainstream films I’ve ever seen… coming from Walt Disney Pictures no less–remind immediately of A.I. The references I expect, but Stanton’s enthusiasms for directing space scenes–or the wonderment one can experience thanks to a light bulb–is something special. The light bulbs and the like aside, Stanton’s space scenes remind of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of raw excitement. Stanton fully utilizes the technology, but for the story. WALL·E contains a dance scene, probably as close as we’ll get to seeing Jeannot Szwarc’s tragically unfilmed ballet for Supergirl, and it’s a perfect example of the art and technology working in unison.

The approach to the story, and how the filmmaking interacts with it, is what makes WALL·E so exceptional. There are no metaphors, no analogs, instead Stanton establishes WALL·E and the setting in five minutes or less and then everything plays out in it. WALL·E doesn’t garner sympathy because he’s an analog for a pining leading man, he garners it because he’s a little robot with a particular story.

Where WALL·E falters is in its attempt at reality. There’s live action footage of Fred Willard as the characters look into their past, along with a lot more live action clips. The way it works out is problematic… the future is CG animation, the past is reality. It’s a neat idea, but just doing as life-like CG as possible for the past–never breaking the film’s visual continuity–would have been far better. There are also some problems with how much information the film presents about this future setting. It dwells long enough to raise questions, but doesn’t want to address them (or even the raising of those questions, since many are non-Disney like).

WALL·E‘s probably Pixar’s best film (the only serious competition is Monsters, Inc., also from Stanton, but that film had third act problems) and it’s a definite achievement.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter; directors of photography, Jeremy Lasky and Danielle Feinberg; edited by Stephen Schaffer; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; produced by Jim Morris; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ben Burtt (WALL·E), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright), Macintalk (Auto), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary) and Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer).


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