A few weeks ago, I saw Rob Schneider on The Tonight Show, where he undertook to promote The Animal by eating dogfood from a can on Jay Leno’s desk. I don’t remember the circumstance that made this a viable means of promoting the film, but I do remember Leno’s look of mild revulsion as Schneider chowed down, on not just one bite but two, the second as the show cut to commercial.
If you’re inclined to think there’s a grand order to the way the world works, then perhaps you can rationalize Rob Schneider’s celebrity. Still, I think it’s safe to say that for many folks—even fans—his rising star seems a mysterious thing. It seems, looking back now, that he moved quickly from his purposefully annoying “makin’ copies” shtick on Saturday Night Live to co-starring in a couple of fellow SNL alumni’s flicks, to starring in a couple of his own flicks. But while he appears to have moved on from the Rickmeister and even the Sensitive Naked Man, Schneider has maintained his affection for the yappy relentlessness that made him a star, or at least, that made him a recognizable product, which is close enough. Like Adam Sandler and David Spade (who have similarly turned their irritating personas into franchises), Schneider never plays characters who fall too far from those early shticky incarnations, but instead finds—or more precisely, co-writes—roles that highlight what’s worked for him in the past. Somewhere in every character he plays, there’s a bit of the Rickmeister.
Take Marvin Mange, Schneider’s yuck-yuckety named character in The Animal. From jump, Marvin is the usual Schneider underdog, loquacious, awkward, and adolescent, a wouldabeen frat boy rejected at every turn. When you meet him, Marvin is nursing ambitions to be a small town cop, in the meantime working as an evidence room clerk. Here he’s so profoundly disrespected that when school kids come for a tour of his domain, they handcuff him to a storage case and run around the room screaming and tearing through the evidence, in addition slapping a sign on him that reads, in case you’ve somehow missed the point, “Loser.” Marvin persists, a short time later trying for the millionth time to get through the police training obstacle course, which he fails miserably, peeing his pants in the bargain.
Marvin is so inept that he’s unable to impress the girl he adores, Rianna (Colleen Haskell, survivor of the first Survivor), whom he spots being interviewed on television, after she has lived in a tree for weeks to keep it from being cut down. She looks after injured and abandoned pets for a local vet’s office. Still, Marvin comes up short, so wussy that even this sweetest and most forgiving of girls finds him dull. Rianna’s fondness for animals is the basis for The Animal‘s central joke, which, as usual, comes at Schneider’s expense. All unruly hair, puny limbs, and wide eyes, Marvin’s another one of Schneider’s pathetic, unmanly bumblers, lacking the “animal” instinct that apparently makes a real man.
This instinct is the very one recently celebrated by those TV shows populated by beer-drinking, pizza-scarfing, “juggies”-obsessing guys—The X Show, The Man Show, the cancelled sitcom that starred Schneider himself, Men Behaving Badly, as well as currently running Mountain Dew commercial where the guy butts heads with a mountain goat to prove his macho mettle for his awestruck buddies. Just so, Marvin needs to get in touch with his beastly side: if only he can become aggressively crude and clueless rather than just whimpily crude and clueless, he knows he’ll be a much happier fella. And he’ll have that real man thing going on, to boot.
Lucky for Marvin, he’s almost killed in a car wreck and put back together with animal parts by a kindly mad scientist (Michael Caton) who has a secret lab out in the woods. This silly plot turn—the doctor tells him he’s had a “radical transpecies-ectomy”—grants Schneider a reason to start imitating various animals, from dolphin, horse, and dog, to cat, monkey, and goat. The rest of the movie is a series of occasions for each animal aspect to “come out,” most often to Marvin’s own horror. Some of these bits are feebly cute (Marvin approaches a tethered female goat while Marvin Gaye croons “Let’s Get It On” in the background) and others are just stupid (of course he farts inappropriately, but he also humps a mailbox while eying a pretty girl on the sidewalk, and marks his “territory” around Rianna’s chair at a fancy restaurant, doggy-style).
Best of all, Marvin is finally able to earn his policeman’s badge (by sniffing out a stash of drugs in mid-smuggle at an airport), because he’s suddenly so combative and animalistically athletic that he can outrun, outjump, and outsmell everyone else, including his longtime tormenter, the odiously too-tight-shirted Sgt. Sisk (John C. McGinley, survivor of several Oliver Stone movies). Marvin’s newfound strength, sensory gifts, and agility mean that Sisk really has it in for him, apparently competing for the favor of their mutual boss, Chief Wilson (Ed Asner). The other men are not a little perturbed by the new competition, and so they believe that Marvin is the creature who’s been going out at night, wolfman-like, mangling cows.
Marvin’s travails are somewhat eased because, being in a Farrelly brothers-era bodily-functions comedy, he has the requisite black sidekick to make him look relatively well-adjusted. This one’s name is Miles (Guy Torry), and his debilitating hang-up is that he’s the only black person in sight, and believes that everyone else is nice to him because of “reverse racism.” An airport security guard, Miles supports Marvin in all his many endeavors and heartaches, but Miles’ own anxieties and incredible rationalization actually seem a more timely comedic topic, and a less obscure way of dealing with race and racial difference than the displacement onto “species-ism” that The Animal has concocted.
The movie makes this displacement most obvious in Rianna and Marvin’s interracial dating dilemma. Technically, I suppose, it’s interspecies dating (and in this sense, quite like Shrek‘s primary romance, between the ogre and the princess), but the subtext is clear enough. That they seem to be successful as a couple also seems to twist the triumph-of-geek-love idea (on their first date, Rianna actually likes Marvin’s sloppy-wet lick up the whole side of her face). This love story sort of counteracts all the patently gross-out images, for instance, Marvin’s uncontrollable desire to have sex with the goat. But in a Rob Schneider movie, it’s likely the goat scene that you’ll remember.