(Amazon Prime Streaming, October 2017) For such an easy punchline, Rob Schneider’s apex as a leading comedy actor is actually quite short, from 1999’s Deuce Bigalow to 2002’s The Hot Chick, with 2001’s The Animal in the middle of those two. Before and after that, Schneider is to be found in supporting roles and cameos in Happy Madison productions … sometimes effectively but usually not. The Animal certainly presents Schneider in a familiar role, taking advantage of a high-concept comic premise to be as crude as possible in the name of getting laughs. It very occasionally works here, but The Animal is more annoying than funny even while allowing for the usual Happy Madison lowest-denominator methods. What helps a bit is that Schneider is up against first-season-of-Survivor early TV Reality star Colleen Haskell in the lead romantic role. She may have charmed all of North America in 2000, but as an actress Haskell is an empty void—she’s cute but so bland that she’s a rare case study of non-acting in a Hollywood picture. She at least has the decency of looking suitably baffled as Schneider showboats all around her, exhibiting animal traits in a series of comic bits that would be actively embarrassing to explain to the preschoolers for which the film is seemingly destined. (“Yeah, he’s rubbing against the mailbox because … oh, let’s watch a Disney movie again.”) There are a handful of laughs in the movie, largely due to Norm MacDonald’s too-short appearance as an overly analytical mob member, and a final anti-racism joke that surprisingly lands despite the film’s best efforts to make it offensive. Otherwise, well, The Animal is surely sliding away as an unlamented dim memory, and that’s not a tragedy. Maybe, someday, we will forget all about Schneider as well.
(On TV, March 2017) Body-swapping comedies are a weird enough subgenre, but gender-swapping comedies featuring Rob Schneider are all the way out there between “gross” and “really?” Still, there are a few surprises in this fifteen-year-old film—most notably seeing Rachel MacAdams (two years before her Mean Girls/Notebook breakthrough) slumming it up in the lead role as a popular high school girl who unwillingly swaps bodies with an older male petty criminal. McAdams is good, and so is Anna Faris in a supporting role … even though the rest of the film is almost unbearably dumb. I say almost because, for all of its sins, The Hot Chick can’t help but explore a bit of the gender-bending queerness (in the best sense of the word) that its premise would suggest. Those fleeting moments almost make The Hot Chick interesting on its own terms. Still, much of the movie clearly shows its Happy Madison lineage—at the time, Schneider was perhaps at the height of his fame as a comedian, and he didn’t get there by being clever or refined. Unbearable at times, almost interesting at others, The Hot Chick is perhaps best seen today as an early film for people who then did better … or faded away like Schneider.
(On Cable TV, February 2014) I had low expectations for this low-budget romantic comedy, which came out of nowhere with a bland premise, no-name leads and a featured performance by Rob Schneider. Somehow, though, You May Not Kiss the Bride overcomes most of its shortcomings to deliver an entertaining-enough blend of sympathetic protagonists, gorgeous Hawaiian cinematography and effective screenwriting. Here, a Chicagoan photographer is manipulated into fake-marrying a mob daughter to ensure her citizenship. A honeymoon is arranged for the purpose of misleading government authorities, but our protagonist has been warned that he may definitely not kiss or otherwise touch the bride on promises of painful death. Naturally, things don’t quite go according to plan. There isn’t much more to the film than a few performances. Dave Annable and Katharine McPhee make for an appealing lead couple, while Tia Carrere has a welcome supporting role, Mena Suvari repeatedly mugs for laughs and Rob Schneider proves to be far less annoying than expected. Vinnie Jones shows up for a typical turn as the film’s designated heavy, but this isn’t a film that lives on the strengths of its antagonists. While You May Not Kiss the Bride isn’t particularly ambitious (and kind of fumbles its landing by stretching it out), writer/director Rob Hedden should be happy: his film is good enough to make its target audience happy, and may even qualify as a pleasant late-night-cable discovery.
(In theaters, June 2008) It’s easy to be harsh on Adam Sandler and the crude messy vehicles he chooses. But there’s something else going on with this generally harmless comedy about a libidinous Israeli agent faking his own death to become a New York hairdresser, subsequently falling in love with a Palestinian. It’s a big dumb populist comedy using very serious themes as comedy fodder, exploiting the evening news as a baseline against which to deviate. Sure, the Sandler character is still dumb as bricks (albeit ridiculously gifted in the finer point of counter-terrorism) and the hummus/Fizzy-Bubblech/hacky-sack shtick can wear thin, but a large chunk of the film can also be spent wondering how serious geopolitical issues can end up with Rob Schneider playing an Arab terrorist sympathizer. It’s a reasonably funny film in a lazy and easy way (the sequence in which Sandler and friends play hacky-sack using a curiously willing pet cat as a ball is pure whimsical fun, for instance), but it works more than it doesn’t, even when it veers away from normal comedic unreality into sheer fantasy. Props be given to the man, Sandler actually comes across as a believable action hero in the film’s most outlandish scenes, and manages to old ladies seduction look endearing rather than creepy. But even his better-than-average performance takes a back seat to the audacity of the film’s concept, and the almost schizophrenic way it boils down complex issues to matters that could be settled with inter-cultural dating, American integration, competitive sports and a bucket of hummus. One wonders how much better Munich would have been had it had it adopted the same viewpoint. At the very least, it got me started on a hummus binge.