The Animal

Somebody call the Humane Society – Rob Schneider is on the loose again. His latest effort, The Animal, finally answers the burning question, "How could there possibly be a comedy released in 2001 that is less funny than Joe Dirt?" It wasn’t easy, but the good folks at Happy Madison Productions have managed to pull it off by combining an inane premise with inept execution. (If the "Happy Madison" seal of approval fails to set off warning bells, be advised that it is an amalgamation of the names of two beloved Adam Sandler characters.)

Schneider stars as Marvin, the dimwitted evidence file clerk for the Elkerton Police Department who is continually foiled in his attempts to pass the obstacle course that would allow him to become a full-fledged officer of the law. One day when all the real cops are out at a softball game, Marvin answers an emergency call and proceeds to drive off a cliff, bouncing down through many frames of film to his apparent death or at least dismemberment. But Marvin is rescued by a passing mad scientist who whisks the hapless doofus to his backwoods laboratory, where he performs experimental surgery, replacing many of Marvin’s original organs with those of zoo animals. For reasons given not even the most cursory of explanations, these organs imbue Marvin with traits and characteristics of the various animals used to save his life. These handy attributes include scratching himself, consuming large amounts of meat, humping mailboxes and sniffing other people’s hindquarters.

As luck would have it, Marvin has several chance encounters with Rianna (Survivor sweetheart Colleen Haskell in her acting debut), an environmental activist and animal shelter volunteer he has admired from afar. Perhaps sensing a kindred spirit – if not to herself, at least to the buffoonish orangutan she tends to – Rianna takes a shine to the little fellow. But their budding romance is threatened when the increasingly feral Marvin finds it more and more difficult to control his beastly urges.

This thin concept serves mainly as a hat rack on which to hang ample opportunities for Schneider to be struck about the head with blunt instruments (a habit the star presumably acquired while co-authoring the egregiously slapdash screenplay with Tom Brady). There are a handful of gags that don’t involve Schneider suffering contusions to the skull, but none of them are developed even to the point of reaching a punchline. At one point the mad scientist brings Marvin back to his lab, where we are given to understand he is to be held against his will. We see a giant hamster-wheel and other outsized props, but at the end of the scene, Marvin simply walks out the door. Late in the movie there’s a throwaway revelation about the Rianna character reminiscent of one in the recent dud Along Came a Spider, but nothing comes of it. Schneider and his collaborators throw one lemon after another at the screen without ever bothering to squeeze any comic juice from them.

Schneider does have a vaguely animalistic presence here, sort of like an eager-to-please chimp. He gets off a few stray bits of competent physical comedy here and there but he simply doesn’t have the chops to carry a feature film. John C. McGinley, Ed Asner and Louis Lombardi (Agent Skip Lipari of The Sopranos) are among the talents wasted in thankless supporting roles. The sole ray of light is Haskell, the non-actress who came to fame eating rats on a beach in the South China Sea. What she gives here may not be, strictly speaking, a performance (though it’s hard to tell based on the material she’s working with), but her shy, soft-spoken sunniness lends The Animal its only authentic human touch.

Scott Von Doviak