I admit it: I laughed along with the rest of the audience when I first saw the trailer for “The Animal.” No, the sight of Rob Schneider–as a man who for some reason has had various vital organs replaced by those of wild animals (!)–engaging in the sort of goofy physical gags one would expect (e.g., taking a canine-like leap into the air to catch a frisbee with his teeth) didn’t elicit a chuckle. What broke down my defenses was the trailer’s parting gag of Schneider slapping the a*s of a goat to the strains of “Let’s Get It On.” Idiotic, yes, but in its own no-brainer way, rather funny. But not unlike that of any given sketch on Schneider’s alma mater of “Saturday Night Live,” the premise of “The Animal” is a single-note joke. So little surprise that while it can easily sustain interest in a 90-second trailer, it is hardly sturdy enough to support a 90-minute feature.
After all, a feature requires some sort of serviceable story and cannot merely be a string of scenes with Schneider’s Marvin Mange indulging the wild beast within. But someone didn’t tell Schneider, co-writer Tom Brady, or first-time director Luke Greenfield, for once the film introduces its central gimmick (which doesn’t happen until about a good 25 minutes in) it settles into a virtually plotless stretch of scenes with novice cop Marvin sniffing out a balloon of heroin from a smuggler’s butt (yes, it’s true) or licking the face of the comely nature activist (Colleen Haskell, a.k.a. the cute one from the original “Survivor”) whom he likes. The antics go on for about 30 to 40 minutes longer than their thin novelty is worth, and then point Schneider and the crew introduce some last-minute conflict-does Marvin become a rampaging beast at night, unbeknownst to himself?–to pad the film to a multiplex-ready run time.
It goes without saying that Schneider isn’t much of an actor, but at the very least he doesn’t exhibit the worst characteristics of fellow “SNL”-to-film transplants Adam Sandler and David Spade: smugness and smarm, respectively. Haskell shouldn’t bet on a screen career just yet, for Greenfield so obviously covers up her clear absence of acting ability by throwing in closeups of her ever-adorable smile whenever remotely possible; note how he cuts away as much as possible whenever she speaks (or is it “reads”?) her lines. But complaining about performances is a moot issue when every single character is a caricature, and even more pointless considering the entire film itself is one-and a quickly tiresome one at that.