August 17, 2001
It's been 17 years since Jerry Zucker made his last zany, madcap comedy, Top Secret!. And almost 20 since he directed the mother of all spoof movies, Airplane!.
Yes, Jerry Zucker is back; producing and directing Rat Race, which houses an amazing ensemble cast with more stars than Hollywood Squares: Rowan Atkinson, Kathy Bates, Dean Cain, Lanai Chapman, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Seth Green, Wayne Knight, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Paul Rodriguez, Amy Smart, Dave Thomas, and Brandy.
It's true that there isn't a Hanks or Cruise in the cast, or even a Julia Roberts, but it's the concept here that is going to sell this film anyway. That's why the writer here is Andy Breckman, whose best credit is Arthur 2: On the Rocks (You thought I was going to say Sgt. Bilko didn't you?). The Cannonball Run seems to be what the producers are aiming for here.
Basically, it's a remake of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with a splash of Cannonball: Six teams race to find two million bucks hidden away, and try and break as many traffic laws as possible in an effort to find the loot. It's been a while since we have seen a madcap ensemble road movie, but folks know that these types of films are of the "shut your brain off" variety, and don't mind in the least.
Is there a large enough audience for this type of film in 2001? Of course there is. In 1981, The Cannonball Run made $60 million overall, so there is no reason why Rat Race can't make a hundred. These types of films just need to catch on.
On the marketing front, Paramount has a great trailer playing that seems to be stirring audiences into race mode. The TV ads at this point have been sparse, at least for this 30-year-old male. Paramount has recently switched from the direct competition of American Pie 2 and Osmosis Jones to the safer slot of August 17 where there are no other comedies.
Can Zucker re-infuse this dead genre with new life, à la the Naked Gun films? I certainly hope so. Those Cannonball Run movies were pure cheese, and for some reason, I sort of miss them. On the other hand, I don't miss Mafia! (John Hamann/BOP)
Box Office Autopsy
Need an example of a movie that can open with no above-the-title stars? Rat Race is your man. Rat Race is the type of film that has no business working in today's movie marketplace. It's the middle of August, your cast is full of leftovers from The Mystery Men set and your film has a costly $50 million budget. How was Paramount planning on turning this one into a shrewd investment?
Marketing. Kudos to Paramount for manufacturing a hit with Rat Race; it took hard work, but the studio turned a profit. Paramount put out a fantastic trailer for the madcap comedy early, had it play all summer in front of a string of hits, and then followed it up with their large team of actors doing a huge amount of PR. Rat Race benefited from this and the film opened to a better than expected $11.67 million. For Paramount this was a great start, because they had a property that they knew would take off, and it did.
Positive word of mouth and a continued strong marketing campaign helped Rat Race avoid any weekend to weekend drops over 40% unitl its seventh weekend. After a second weekend drop of 30%, Rat Race held very well in the weeks that followed. It dropped only 11% over labour day weekend, and after only 17 days it had already pulled in more than 3 times its opening weekend gross. Small drops continued through September, and the film ended up taking in $56.7 million in domestic box office; it added $11.7 million from International grosses and had a final cume of $68.4 million. The film did decently on home video as well, finding $63.4 million in video revenue.
The best news for Paramount is that they can build a series of films like this, and that's where the money is. But the problem will always be in the amount of money paid to the cast. If they can find a new group of low paid actors, there's no reason not to do a Rat Race 2. (John Hamann/BOP)