Marvin (Rob Schneider) is a bumbling evidence locker clerk for the local police station. When the rest of the squad is at a softball game, Marvin is left alone to answer a robbery call. Driven off the road in his car, Marvin plunges to his death off a nearby cliff. Rescued by a mad scientist (Michael Caton, "The Castle"), Marvin's internal organs are replaced by animal parts to bring him back to life. Marvin, unaware of his new innards, returns to his life and begins to discover his new heightened sense of smell, breathtaking agility, and penchant for licking himself. In meeting Rianna (Colleen Haskell from "Survivor"), an animal shelter worker, Marvin finds love and acceptance while trying to comprehend just what is bringing the animal out in him.
Many recent comedies have been trying too hard to be outlandish ("Joe Dirt," "Tomcats"). They craft wonderful comic momentum, only to pull back at the crucial moment to deliver a lukewarm moral about love, or something else that doesn't matter when they should be concerned with only being funny. "The Animal" (IMDb listing) blessedly sidesteps these speed bumps and concentrates exclusively on laughter. Some jokes are bad, but most are alarmingly good. "The Animal" is modestly-budgeted and runs a heart attack-inducing 75 minutes, yet somehow comes out the other side as one of the more successful comedies of the past year.
The success of the film is no doubt helped by the guiding hand of producer Adam Sandler, however the screenplay by Tom Brady and Schneider provides what very well could be the first welcome use of toilet humor in a 2001 film. In exploring his animal traits, Marvin coughs up hairballs, urinates to mark his territory, and humps a mailbox. Granted, this is slippery material to appreciate, Schneider's dedication is commendable. Animal owners will especially be pleased to see their pet's most humiliating traits up on the screen to be laughed at. "The Animal" isn't majestic material, and the filmmakers don't have any illusions of that. It makes the film more festive. Its very simplicity is "The Animal's" best asset.
"The Animal" is a step up for Schneider from his last film, the surprise hit "Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo." Though peppered with laughs, "Deuce Bigelow" didn't go far enough with its smutty premise of a grotesque male prostitute. "The Animal" has less success with its thin story, yet the cast and crew take the jokes to places I didn't expect. One funny running gag of note features actor Guy Torry (TV's "The 70s") in the role of a black man who correctly assumes he can get away with anything (smoking in airports, getting away with murder) due to other people's fear of his cultural stereotype. Funny asides like this could be deadly in the wrong hands, but with Sandler and company calling the shots (Rob Greenfield directs), the jokes stay upbeat and the targets never too taboo for them to take a swing at.
Regardless of the film itself, the main curiosity of "The Animal" has to be the acting debut of former "Survivor" Colleen Haskell. The picture doesn't require Shakespearean training from Haskell, but I wish the script gave the actress a little more to do then smile incessantly with her Pikachu face and act mock-surprised when Schneider acts immature. Haskell is charming, but she is also forgettable. Nevertheless, any "Survivor" contestant is better than having Beelzebub himself, Richard Hatch, in the starring role.
Filmfodder Grade: B