HBO // 2007 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // March 24th, 2009
He'll have to kick some butt to save his own.
Poor Rob Schneider. It's gotten to the point that people go into his movies assuming the worst. It doesn't seem fair that Mike Meyers should still get the benefit of the doubt after The Love Guru, or that Eddie Murphy should still be able to coast on the work he did back in the '80s. Rob Schneider is an SNL alum, too. Why do people hate his movies?
Maybe because they're not very good. Big Stan certainly isn't. Oh, and fair warning: this review is going to have the word "rape" in it a lot. Don't blame me. Blame the movie.
When real estate mogul Stan Minton (Rob Schneider, You Don't Mess With the Zohan) is tried and convicted for defrauding senior citizens, he is sentenced to three years in jail. His crooked lawyer (M. Emmett Walsh, Fletch) bribes the judge, giving Stan six months to prepare for the big house. Not knowing what to expect, he approaches an ex-con in a bar who gives him the brutal truth: a weakling like him is easy pickings for rape-happy inmates. Terrified of being repeatedly violated, Stan vows he'll learn to protect himself in the time he has left. After being thrown out of a local dojo, he meets a mysterious stranger who calls himself "The Master" (David Carradine, National Lampoon's Stoned Age). Stan invites The Master to move into his mansion to the horror of his wife Mindy (Jennifer Morrison, House, M.D.), and his training begins. By the time his six months are up, Stan has sacrificed his marriage to gain the skills to survive. He puts his training into action right away, taking on the most dangerous prisoners in the yard. He gains their respect, as well as the attention of the shady Warden (Scott Wilson, Junebug), who wants Stan's help to shut down the prison so he can buy the land and turn it into luxury condos financed by a Vietnamese mobster (Tsuyoshi Abe, Today You Die). Stan's immediate excitement over a deal that could get him an early parole fades quickly as he gets to know his fellow prisoners and must decide whether or not to sell them out.
Big Stan bills itself as a martial arts movie, but except for a training montage and a few fight scenes, it's more about a guy trying not to be raped. First-time director Rob Schneider has actually created a brand new film genre: "Male Rape Avoidance Comedy." You have no idea how much I wish I hadn't written that last sentence.
Big Stan is about a guy who goes to extreme lengths not to be raped in prison. He spends the first 40 minutes trying to figure out how to avoid it. There's other stuff in the movie about a scheming warden and Stan teaching the inmates to get along, but none of that would exist if not for the threat of rape. Stan lives in fear of it. He risks losing his wife over it (after asking her to practice it on him with a rubber male member). He endures a grueling training regimen with an unstable sensei to gain the skills necessary to thwart anyone in prison who'd dare try to do it to him. Big Stan is like The Karate Kid if, instead of the All Valley Karate Tournament, Mr. Miyagi spent the movie preparing Daniel San for not getting raped.
Believe me. I don't like all this rape talk any more than you do, but how do you talk about Big Stan without bringing up the "r" word? He won't stop talking about it -- from yelling at his wife about it to psyching himself up with the declaration, "I will be unrapeable!" Thankfully, the movie becomes less about rape after Stan gains the respect of his fellow inmates. I say "less" because it continues to come up, and even plays a major part in the climactic fight scene.
At least Schneider tries to separate forced sex from homosexuality. Stan's prison reform includes the portrayal of a healthy same sex relationship, and he goes out of his way to point out that rape is about violence and power, not sex. Of course, that bit of social responsibility comes after he fights a little person, allows a Nazi to be violated with his own shiv, and convinces an old lady to buy a timeshare by promising her the company of multiple black lovers.
There are two good things about Big Stan. One is Richard Kind, who is in the movie for about a minute and wins almost by default. The other is that the choreography of the fight scenes is actually pretty good. In fact, the one-on-everyone prison yard scene, where Stan fights his way to the top of the food chain, is impressive. Schneider did extensive training for the part, and you can tell. It's just too bad there aren't more fight scenes. They really take attention away from all the rape jokes.
I'm not surprised by how bad Big Stan is, but I'm surprised by how bad it looks. The colors are washed out. I had to check my TV during the first ten minutes to make sure I hadn't changed some setting by mistake. The 5.1 mix is fine, but calling it "surround" is a bit of a stretch. The rear speakers and bass get hardly any use at all.
Schneider is joined by Buddy Lewis (Cleon) and Salvator Xeureb (Nazi gang leader Patterson) for a feature-length commentary. Schneider talks a lot of shop about making the movie, and the other guys provide some color. The disc also has two featurettes. The first is a detailed behind-the-scenes diary called "Comedy is Pain." Directed by Joshua Kopple, "Pain" gets its name from a Carradine quote and is in many ways more interesting than the movie itself, mostly because it spends a lot of time on how they did the action scenes and the big dance sequence. The 30-minute piece begins and ends with the true story of Rob Schneider's well-publicized trip to the hospital for heat exhaustion, which happened while they were shooting the most complicated scene in the movie. The other featurette, "Odds & Ends," is four minutes of forgettable outtakes and on-set goofing around.
As I mentioned above, the fight scenes are pretty impressive, especially for a comedy. If there were more of them I'd consider recommending this movie to curious martial arts fans. Also, for all the well-deserved flack I've given the story for being so single-minded in its focus, once you get about halfway, the movie gets a little more interesting, and the finale (though cheesy) is pretty clever.
I wanted Big Stan to change my mind about Rob Schneider movies. I guess I was asking too much. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don't think rape is funny. Schneider's directorial debut is offensive and immature, and that's too bad. If he'd made Stan's motivation for learning to fight more of a general fear about surviving prison, and added more action, this movie might have been worth watching.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R