Consider the new Rob Schneider comedy alongside the movies of his “Saturday Night Live” contemporaries Adam Sandler, David Spade, Norm MacDonald and the late Chris Farley, and it doesn’t look too bad. In these films, one sketch-worthy joke is stretched to feature length, with variations on an underwhelming theme the sole source of humor. This is the particular curse of most “SNL” alumni, and with a few exceptions (such as Mike Myers, whose Wayne’s World and Austin Powers are savvy satires), theirs is a cinema of diminished expectations.
The Animal shows just how little can go into one of these films and how much a performer can make of it, if they happen to be as adept at physical comedy as Schneider. Here, he plays the ultimate milquetoast, Marvin Mange, who’s thwarted in his desire to become a police officer by an utter lack of physical strength and coordination, and the vehement derision of the fatuous Sgt. Sisk (John C. McGinley, who along with Ed Asner seems to be relishing his chance to slum in a silly comedy). Through a thoroughly improbable series of events, Marvin becomes an unwitting guinea pig who’s infused with the energies of a variety of nonhuman creatures, transforming him into a supercop with heightened senses.
What this means is that Schneider spends most of the film’s 87 minutes responding to animal urges he can’t control or understand while courting the sweet Rianna (“Survivor” survivor Colleen Haskell, as perky as her hairdo). Surprisingly, The Animal is often funny in a lighthearted, juvenile way. (See Schneider act like a dolphin and battle an orangutan!)
While not as witty as Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle, it’s also not nearly as offensive as it could have been. Director Luke Greenfield, working from a gag-heavy script by Schneider and Tom Brady, keeps things rolling along and maintains the oddball logic which movies like this exist in.
But this mangy beast and all its brethren invite the question: Why have we come to demand so little from our comedies? Slapstick can have bite, even if The Animal doesn’t.
Visit the official The Animal Web site at mediatrip.com/theanimal.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.