Our review of The Animal, published October 23rd, 2001, is also available.
He wasn't much of a man…Now he's not much of an animal.
I despise lowbrow comedies, even when they are popular and I'm ridiculed for my disdain. The Animal is precisely the sort of movie I normally don't like. But for some reason, the previews really made me want to see it. The idea of Rob Schneider becoming different animals just cracked me up. The commercials gave me a warm fuzzy and certain knowledge that, despite the odds, I would like this movie. It got bad reviews, and my friends all thought it was a dud. But what critic worth his salt listens to the opinions of others?
Facts of the Case
Marvin Mange (Rob Schneider) is a lowly evidence clerk at the police station. All that stands between him and a badge is the obstacle course, which he has failed four times. His neighbor, a sixty-something, short, Latino woman, pushes him around. The cops pick on him. Marvin is a loser.
One fateful night, Marvin gets in an accident that will change him forever. A reclusive scientist drags Marvin to safety and operates on his broken body. Marvin's human parts are replaced with various animal parts. When Marvin recovers, he can't help but feel a little…different.
Okay, okay. You were right. Sometimes the commercials stretch the truth a bit. I was completely taken in by David Manning's glowing praise. The Animal is uneven, has poor acting, and fails to generate much momentum. In short, it is a dud. And that makes me sad, because The Animal had promise.
Many people rag on Rob Schneider. I've never seen any of his movies, so I only had a vague preconception of him: a quiet guy with goofy charisma and a gift for performing impressions. Guess what? He is a quiet guy with goofy charisma and a gift for performing impressions. Unfortunately, he needed some acting chops to carry this film, and that is where the problem begins.
Rob is just not very convincing as a downtrodden loser. Maybe he has too much self-confidence to pull it off, or maybe the director didn't pull out the right nuance. Who knows? But it was obvious (sometimes painfully so) that Rob was trying to act like a loser. The scene where he meets Rianna (Colleen Haskell) in the men's room is a perfect example. Rob stutters, looks at the floor, pulls out 50 paper towels, and generally tries to act flustered. Why go against the grain? Find yourself in the character and go with it.
Rob was certainly not the only actor to miss the mark. Colleen Haskell makes her feature debut in The Animal, and she is good for the role. She has great looks and tree-hugger credibility. At moments she hits just the right note, and at other moments she fails to convince. She coasts through using her natural charms without really making a statement. In short, she acts like it is her feature debut.
This might not have been a problem, but The Animal is director Luke Greenfield's first time, too. As you might guess, The Animal features a zoo's worth of animals, which are notoriously hard to work with. Luke had never directed a full-length film before, his cast featured animals, and his leading lady was fresh off of the Survivor island…I'm impressed that he got the movie wrapped. Luke is still working, and I'm glad, because this was a major challenge. In the face of that challenge, the direction suffers. Many scenes are uncertain; the tone fails to assert itself. It seems as though Luke told the actors to just do their thing, which might not have been the best approach in this zoo.
The Animal generates some laughs, primarily in the beginning and end of the film. The police obstacle course was amusing, as was the reverse racism subplot. A gang of kids hassles Marvin and they demonstrate more spark than many of the other actors. The end had one startling moment where you think that Louis Lombardi's character is going to eat Guy Torry's character. Rob lights up when he hits on a goat, showing flashes of a more charismatic and funny man. John C. McGinley and Edward Asner give outrageous performances. To say that The Animal is empty of humor would be an injustice. Individual moments connect. The whole simply isn't very convincing.
One aspect of the film lives up to expectations: the physical animal impersonations. Rob runs like a cheetah, begs like a dog, and swims like a dolphin. These scenes demonstrate technical facility and good impersonation technique.
The extras package is thorough, but the extras aren't spectacular. There are two commentary tracks, yes…but both have the same flaws, which are bouts of silence and lots of "golf commentary." It was amusing (in a sad sort of way) to flip back and forth between the commentaries and hear the same phrase repeated over and over: "This one worked out pretty good, I guess." Aside from being almost useless, it is annoying when commentators lapse into rephrasing the same statement over and over. To have two commentaries feature the same verbal tic is disappointing. Comedy Central's Reel Comedy Featurette feels like a mid-afternoon media infomercial. The "Making-of Featurette" features much overlap with the Comedy Central bit. The "What's in Marvin" game is simply a clever way to dress up an extended excised scene that isn't all that funny. The deleted scenes are the best part. Altogether, the number of extras is impressive—but nothing really impresses about them.
The transfer is free of edge enhancement or other digital beasties. It looks vibrant and clear, with occasional nicks and scratches to remind you it came from celluloid. The 5.1 soundtrack is not very immersive. Forty minutes into the movie, I noticed a surround effect; it wasn't well matched with the front stage and it only served to highlight the relative lack of surround effects in the rest of the film.
At this point, I should make reference to the uncut nature of this release, but I don't know what to say. There are a couple of pairs of fake-looking breasts on display, along with some cuss words (mostly in the soundtrack). The good doctor tries to pimp out a chimpanzee. Really, there isn't much shocking about it.
I refuse to make any global statements about the people involved in this movie. I'm sure it was quite a challenge, and it isn't very successful. I'd like to see them all do their thing under different circumstances.
Cage it up! The Animal is going for a little ride back to the pen.
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