Funnier, perhaps, than anything in The Animal — which isn’t saying much — are the opportunities for critics to make "Survivor" jokes inspired by the presence of costar Colleen Haskell, the elfin-faced young thing who became a celebrity during the course of the CBS monster hit. "If you were going to vote somebody off this movie, it wouldn’t be her," writes Chris Hewitt of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. And Mary Brennan of Film.com rightly remarks that "you really won’t need a tribal council" to determine this movie’s central problem: It just isn’t funny.
On "Survivor," Colleen and her fellow contestants ate large, fat bug larvae, an ordeal that probably prepared her as well as anything could have for having her face licked and her backside slapped by Rob Schneider (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), a guy with all the attractiveness and manliness of Richard Hatch.
Maybe I should have eaten live bug larvae before seeing this movie (or at least watched one of this year’s real gross-out comedies, like Tomcats or Freddy Got Fingered). Then maybe I would have been able to take a broader view of Schneider’s repeated implied self-abuse, peeing, and sexual interactions not only with women but also animals (no consummated bestiality, but repeated ogling of a goat, and a yucky scene with a chimp in wedding-gown-like attire).
Or maybe I just would have vomited chewed-up larva, instead of simply leaving the theater with an overall sense of distaste. Then again, maybe vomiting chewed-up larva would be more fun than watching The Animal. Maybe if The Animal had been about Rob Schneider vomiting chewed-up larva, it would have been a better movie. Now that I think about it, there actually is a scene where he chews and regurgitates a worm to feed a baby turkey vulture… one of the film’s better moments, as I recall. (Certainly better than the one where he coughed up a hairball after chewing on a cat.)
A certain level of bad taste or otherwise offensive content in a comedy can be overlooked, or at least forgiven, provided only that it’s funny. Situations that would have grave moral implications in a serious drama can be winked at in comedy, because comedies tend to exist in a sort of alternate reality where tragedy, while it might threaten, can’t really happen; where sympathetic characters typically are not allowed to suffer serious irreversible harm; where, consequently, actions and situations have limited moral significance. No one ends unhappily in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, and therefore no one can suffer genuine tragedy; which is why we are not alarmed or offended when the Pirate King and his men chase the Major-General’s daughters, snatching them up and kissing them at will despite their shrieks of protest — a scenario that would obviously be highly disturbing in a serious drama.
But then, The Pirates of Penzance is funny. A movie that makes you laugh has earned some leeway. The Animal earns only indifference. Humor depends on surprise or the unexpected, and any remotely surprising or unexpected humorous moments this film might have had were all carefully coopted for the trailer. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen the best The Animal has to offer.
For those who haven’t seen the trailer, Schneider plays a loser police file clerk who wants to be a real cop like his dad but is regularly thrashed and humiliated by various neighborhood dogs, old men, coworkers, schoolchildren, etc. Then, after a catastrophic accident that plays like the Mars landing in Red Planet, Schneider is surgically rebuilt by a mad scientist (Michael Caton) who puts "animal parts" in him, thus turning him into Ace Ventura’s boring younger brother.
Suddenly he’s catching Frisbees in his teeth, sniffing out hidden drugs in body cavities, chasing cats, peeing to mark his territory, and writhing with arousal at the sight of attractive women or goats in heat. The movie’s idea of humor consists in the fact that the human females elicit from Schneider raw animal lust accompanied by wild-stallion whinnying on the soundtrack, but the female goat inspires singles-bar moves and chit-chat to the seductive strains of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. (Are you laughing yet?) On the other hand, when presented with the chimp in the dress as a sexual partner, Schneider is turned off, a development for which I have no particular explanation but remain nevertheless grateful.
There was one thing about The Animal that did surprise me: the extent to which it systematically rips off Wolf, Mike Nichol’s clever 1994 update of the werewolf motif. Like Jack Nicholson in that film, Schneider’s animal connection gives him enhanced powers but also leads to frightening nocturnal lapses in memory and control during which he fears he may be commiting atrocities without knowing it, until another possibility suggests itself (I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen Wolf, but the same development occurs in both movies). At this point The Animal desperately dangles a string of red herrings in front of us, none of which offers either a coherent resolution or a moment of real humor.
As Schneider’s love interest, Colleen Haskell is cute and winsome, just what the movie needs her to be; but her charm is largely wasted. Two-thirds of the way into the movie Schneider refers to his upcoming "date with the dream girl," and I suddenly realized that I had no more idea of her character’s name than he seemed to. (Or her real name, for that matter. I didn’t watch Survivor.) Still, if this movie merits one star, half of it is due to Haskell.
The other half-star is due to the movie’s lone funny joke: a recurring gag that, significantly, is unrelated either to the film’s premise or to Schneider’s character. Guy Torry plays a chronically offended African-American who resents any courteous or deferential treatment that he perceives as "being overly nice to the black man." That gag should have been surgically removed from this movie and grafted into a funnier one.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.