The film was produced by Fireworks Pictures, Alphaville Films, and Zucker's production company Zucker Productions, and was released by Paramount Pictures on August 17, 2001 in the United States and Canada. It received mixed reviews from critics but was a box office success.
Donald Sinclair, the eccentric owner of The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, devises a new game to entertain the high rollers who visit his hotel. Six special tokens are placed in the casino's slot machines, and the winners are told that $2 million in cash is hidden in a duffel bag in a train station locker in Silver City, New Mexico, 563 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Each team is given a key to the locker and told to race to the train station to claim the money. Unbeknownst to the competitors, Sinclair's wealthy patrons are placing bets on who will win. The patrons continue making smaller bets throughout the film, facilitated by Sinclair's assistant Grisham, who at one point hires an escort as part of a dare.
Among the racers are scheming siblings Duane and Blaine Cody, businesswoman Merrill Jennings and her estranged mother Vera, disgraced American football referee Owen Templeton, the Pear family led by opportunistic father Randy, eccentric Italian tourist Enrico Pollini, and no-nonsense Nick Schaffer.
Unable to get on the earliest flight, Duane and Blaine manage to destroy the airport radar with their Ford Bronco, grounding everybody else. However their vehicle is wrecked in the sabotage, so they steal another. The brothers decide to split up and create a replica key to double their chances of winning. The locksmith overhears their plan and makes off with the key in a hot air balloon. Duane and Blaine catch up to him, leaving the locksmith and a stray dairy cow hanging from the balloon's anchor rope. The brothers later steal a monster truck and continue towards Silver City.
Merrill and Vera crash their car after being given malicious road directions. They steal a rocket car, which races across the desert until it runs out of fuel. The women dizzily stumble onto a bus full of mental patients which eventually drives toward Silver City.
Owen masquerades as the driver of a bus filled with Lucille Ball impersonators going to an I Love Lucy convention. Outside Silver City, the bus hits the cow dangling from the hot air balloon and swerves off the road. Owen has an emotional breakdown, reveals he is not the bus driver, and is forced to flee from the women on foot. Owen eventually rides a stolen horse to Silver City.
Randy Pear deceives his family into accompanying him in the race, stating that it is a business trip. The family mistakenly visits a museum dedicated to the Nazi Klaus Barbie. After the Cody brothers vandalize their vehicle, the Pears steal Adolf Hitler's staff car to continue. Randy declines to end the trip when his family becomes tired of traveling. He eventually tells them about the $2 million, and they are initially excited. However, when his family insists on ending the trip again, he drugs them with sleeping pills and bundles them into a semi-truck to reach Silver City.
Nick chooses not to participate in the race until he meets pilot Tracy Faucet, who gives him an advantage as she is one of the few still able to fly, using her non-fixed-wing helicopter. The helicopter stalls after Tracy uses it to attack her cheating boyfriend. The two then steal a truck to continue the race.
Narcoleptic Enrico falls asleep at the start of the race and only awakens hours later. He receives a ride from an ambulance driver, Zack, who is delivering a transplant heart to El Paso. Enrico eventually boards a train heading to Silver City.
The racers reunite in Silver City and tackle each other to open the locker, only to find it is empty. Outside, they find Sinclair's assistant Grisham and the call girl he hired making off with the money bag. They lose it when the locksmith ties it to the balloon, only for the three to crash their car.
The racers follow the balloon until it lands at an outdoor charity concert hosted by Smash Mouth. The band and crowd mistake the money as a donation, and once they see the charitable good spirit they have made, the group are persuaded to accept. Nick surprises a horrified Sinclair and his patrons by declaring to the audience that the gamblers will match the amount of money already raised. The racers dance to "All Star" while Sinclair cries.Main
Rat Race was initially written by Darryl Quarles as a spec script. By February 1999, the script had been sold to Hollywood Pictures and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. In August 1999, Jerry Zucker was in negotiations to direct the film for Paramount Pictures, with a script written by Andy Breckman that would be set in Las Vegas, Nevada and in New Mexico. Paramount hoped to begin production in late 1999 or early 2000. Jerry and Janet Zucker were to produce the film, along with Sean Daniel, while Daniel's partner in Alphaville Films, James Jacks, would act as executive producer. Filmmakers initially considered having the film's characters race from Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Vegas, New Mexico, but the idea was rejected because of concerns that it might confuse viewers.
In January 2000, Las Vegas, Nevada was confirmed as a filming location for Rat Race. Location scouting in southern Nevada was scheduled for May 2000, while filming in the area was delayed until fall 2000, to avoid shooting the film in 100-degree weather. Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart were cast in June 2000. Dean Cain was also among the actors to join the cast. Actor John Cleese praised the script as one of only two scripts during his career that he enjoyed: "It's so unusual to get a top-class script. Twice in my life I've had the experience of reading a script and simply saying, 'I'm going to do this.'"
Filming began in the Canadian city of Calgary in August 2000. Filming took place primarily along Calgary's highways, which stood in as highways that the characters travel on in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Desert scenes were shot in the Canadian town of Drumheller. Second unit filming began in Las Vegas on August 7, 2000, with scenes primarily involving Cuba Gooding Jr. Scheduled filming locations included the Las Vegas Strip, Tropicana Avenue (east of the Las Vegas Strip), McCarran International Airport, and Nevada State Route 159. Other scheduled filming locations in Nevada included Goodsprings and Sandy Valley.
Scenes involving Gooding and the group of Lucy impersonators were shot in the Canadian Rockies. Jerry Zucker, who had a tradition of including his mother Charlotte Zucker in each of his films beginning with Airplane!, had her portray one of the Lucy impersonators. Jerry Zucker said, "It's like the Alfred Hitchcock signature. Instead of me, it's mom." Filming also took place at Calgary's former Currie Barracks military base, which had been converted to accommodate film and television productions. Sound stages were constructed inside two aircraft hangars at the base to be used for many of the film's interior scenes, including the Venetian's hotel rooms and conference room. Driving scenes, using green screens and rear projection effects, were also shot inside the hangars. The scene with the coin toss by Owen Templeton was filmed at Calgary's McMahon Stadium.
Filming returned to Las Vegas for a nine-day period beginning on September 20, 2000, with the first three days spent at the McCarran International Airport, before moving to the Venetian resort on the Las Vegas Strip for a six-day shoot. Venetian officials negotiated with Paramount for six months to use the resort in the film. Scenes were shot throughout the Venetian, with the exception of its hotel rooms. Venetian scenes included the casino, lobby, and the entrance to its valet parking garage, as well as exterior shots of the resort. Approximately 1,000 background extras were needed during the second Las Vegas shoot. On September 25, 2000, second-unit filming took place along Nevada State Route 161, leading to Goodsprings.
Filming in Las Vegas concluded on September 29, 2000, and production moved to Ely, Nevada, which stood in as Silver City, New Mexico. Ely's Nevada Northern Railway Museum stood in as the Silver City train station. According to the Nevada Film Office, the filmmakers "fell in love" with the museum after being shown pictures of it. As a result, the initial two-day shoot in Ely was extended to six days. Ely's western entrance, accessed from U.S. Route 50, was used as the entrance to Silver City.
After concluding in Ely, production crews relocated to southern California for the final six weeks of filming, mainly for exterior scenes. California filming primarily occurred in Antelope Valley, Palmdale, Acton, Santa Clarita, and Newhall. Rosamond, California was also a primary location, with filming occurring during a three-week period in October 2000. Smart's helicopter scenes were filmed at 3118 Carnation Street in Rosamond. Additional filming in California occurred at Big Sky Ranch and El Mirage Lake.
Sinclair and the gamblers' eccentric habits are further exaggerated in deleted scenes, where they partake in many more ridiculous bets, including playing Monopoly with real money. In another scene, a high roller pretends to find what they are doing immoral. Professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page and his wife, Kimberly, had a cameo that was cut when test audiences failed to give his appearance any reaction. The scene is available on the DVD release.
Rat Race was released in both Canada and the United States on August 17, 2001 and took in USD$11,662,094 in its opening weekend in the box office within the United States, landing at #3 behind American Pie 2 and Rush Hour 2, and ultimately making approximately $85.5 million worldwide, based on a budget of an estimated $48 million. The film was released in the United Kingdom on January 11, 2002, and opened on #3, behind The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The next two weekends, the film regained the spot, before moving down one place, then four places down, before finally ending up on #10 on February 10, 2002.
Rat Race opened to mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 44% "rotten" rating, with a critical consensus reading "Rat Race moves from one sight gag to another, but only a handful of them are genuinely funny." On Metacritic, which uses an average of critics' reviews, the film holds 52/100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".