Tag Archives: C

THE ANIMAL

The basis of the sort of gross-out screen comedy that’s proliferated over the last few years has always been one-upsmanship: to succeed, a picture has to top its predecessors in slime, goo, and wretched excess. But once Tom Green stunk up the screen with “Freddy Got Fingered” a few months ago, it became well-nigh impossible to imagine any of the other frat-boy stars to do anything that could match, let alone top, its unremitting vulgarity and scummy tastelessness. The bottom of the barrel was unquestionably reached, and everything to follow in the genre would necessarily come up short. So it’s a good thing that despite a title which promises something pretty gnarly, SNL’s Rob Schneider, in his second starring vehicle (following the sniggering “Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo”) actually tries for something sweeter and goofier instead; and at least in part, he succeeds. “The Animal” is no prime stallion, but it’s not a dog either.

The picture is about Marvin Mange, a sad-sack sort of guy–a probationary cop in a small-town department–whose behavior is altered in predictable ways when he’s the recipient of transplanted animal organs following a horrendous (and surprisingly funny) car crash. Plotwise it recalls last spring’s “Monkeybone,” in which Brendan Fraser played a dopey cartoonist whose body was taken over by his wacky alter-ego, a lascivious chimp. But while Henry Selick’s picture was, despite its slapstick trappings, a dark, brooding fable about id-versus-ego, this effort is much lighter, with little on its mind but collecting some giggles and an occasional guffaw. It’s much closer in tone to 1964’s “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” in which Don Knotts played a milquetoast transformed–via animation–into a heroic fish. Of course, this is 2001, and comedy has gotten raunchier in the intervening thirty-seven years, so there’s much more reference to the hero’s sexual appetites than there was in “Limpet,” and many more jokes about urination and farting. But it’s all kept to a manageable level (nothing, thank heaven, to compare to Green’s hideous scenes with horse and elephant in “Freddy”), and kids will probably have a good time watching Schneider mimic the antics of various critters. They’ll also appreciate most of the “ickier” jokes, which are frankly pitched to a juvenile mentality.

Schneider, who did some good work on SNL and had a few amusing cameos in Adam Sandler vehicles, proves himself an adept physical comedian and an amiable screen presence here. He succeeds at what David Spade tried and failed to do in the recent “Joe Dirt”–be a sympathetic shmuck whom the audience can root for while enjoying his knockabout set-pieces. Maintaining a pleasantly deadpan demeanor as he careens through all the gyrations and contortions he has to endure while emulating dolphins, horses, and other assorted beasties, Schneider actually manages to overcome the stigma that followed him around after the smarmy “Deuce.”

Unhappily, he’s pretty much the whole show, and it’s not quite enough to keep “The Animal” afloat even over its modest 80-minute running-time, despite the sprightly pace maintained by neophyte director Luke Greenfield. With one exception, the human supporting cast is disappointing. Guy Torry is great as the hero’s buddy Miles, an agitated black dude who’s incensed that he’s the victim of reverse discrimination because white people treat him particularly well. (There are also a few animals who prove to be scene-stealers–an orangutan, a chimp and a goat in particular.) But though Colleen Haskell, from the original run of “Survivor,” has a pleasant smile as Mange’s love interest, she’s otherwise fairly nondescript, and Michael Caton is a trifle too arch as the doctor who literally puts Marvin back together. Marvin’s colleagues in the PD are an especially colorless lot. John C. McGinley is all chin and posturing as the poor boy’s chief tormentor on the force, veteran Edward Asner seems almost lost as the gruff chief, and Louis Lombardi proves surprisingly flat as Marvin’s closest cop friend.

Moreover, after an hour of fairly good fun the picture wanders off into a werewolf-inspired third act which doesn’t work at all. (It does allow for the obligatory chase sequence, but it’s not handled terribly well, and an attempt to generate suspense about the identity of the doctor’s second patient is a real mistake.) Cameos by Sandler (whose company produced the picture) and Norm MacDonald help to lift things at the very end, as does a hilarious last-minute intervention by Torry, but the damage has already been done. “The Animal” doesn’t go completely lame in the last lap, but it proves to be no thoroughbred. The bottom line is that you could do a lot worse (read “Pearl Harbor”), but also a good deal better (read “Shrek”).

ANGEL EYES

Luis Mandoki’s new film is a lot of things–but, curiously enough, not much of what it’s advertised as being; and the result is that it’s a muddled movie, a melange of disparate genres that never really jells. From the trailers and TV ads (and even the title), “Angel Eyes” promises to be some sort of moody supernatural tale, a “Sixth Sense”-ish kind of suspenser. But while the picture has a brooding, deliberate tone and dark, bluish-green color scheme, it’s really not a thriller at all. There’s an element of mystery to it, to be sure–who’s the bummed-out but friendly wanderer named Catch (Jim Caviezel) who saves the life of down-to-earth Chicago cop Sharon (Jennifer Lopez) and then becomes involved with her?–but the answer turns out to be mundane rather than other-worldly. (And it’s telegraphed in the picture’s first frames, so that it will hardly come as a shock except to the most unobservant filmgoer.) One might also detect a hint of the supernatural in the way the connection between the two characters appears to be fated somehow, but that’s so slight as to be negligible. There’s even a good dose of an action movie here, with quite a few police chases and periodic spurts of gunfire. But “Angel Eyes” is basically an oddball romance with a gritty aura, a tearjerker about recovering from psychological distress by finding the right soulmate, however peculiar the coupling: Sharon and Catch, it turns out, are both depressed people, injured by familial tragedies, who manage to overcome the obstacles those unhappy experiences pose and achieve happiness by linking up. At the end of the day, it has a lot more in common with movies screened on the Lifetime Network than with the films of M. Night Shyamalan, and it will probably remind you more of the last collaboration between Mandoki and writer Gerald DiPego, “Message in a Bottle,” than of something like “Unbreakable.”

Rest assured, however, that it’s not nearly as awful as that Kevin Costner-Robin Wright clunker. While it wouldn’t be fair to reveal the particulars of the traumas from which poor Sharon and Catch suffer, they’re presented more honestly than in the earlier film, and DiPego has invented some good dialogue in the banter between the leads (though elsewhere, when things get serious–as in a final monologue recorded for her estranged father by Sharon–things go terribly mawkish). Mandoki and cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, moreover, sustain a suitably gloomy atmosphere to reflect the mood of the (mostly miserable) characters. What makes the film work better than it probably has any right to, though, are the performances of Lopez and Caviezel. The former does a surprisingly good job of selling the notion that she’s a tough-as-nails cop with a mushier interior than she wants people to believe, and she proves that she can look just as convincing in a uniform or bullet-proof vest as in a black bra or tight-fitting white T-shirt (all of which she sports in the course of the narrative). Her co-star may be in danger of repeating, once too often, his hesitant, slightly dazed, good-naturedly awkward shtick from such past projects as “The Thin Red Line” and “Pay It Forward,” but he still manages to come across as ingratiating rather than irritating. This is basically two-character piece, so the rest of the cast doesn’t make much of an impression, but Terrence Howard gets a couple of good moments as Sharon’s partner. Sonia Braga and Victor Argo, however, are painfully stiff as her parents, and Shirley Knight, ensconced in a wheelchair, is generically maternal as a friend of Catch’s who’s much less mysterious than she’s meant to be.

“Angel Eyes” gets points off for utterly failing to persuade us that it was actually filmed in its purported Chicago setting; squad cars and jackets sporting the CPD logo can’t cut it by themselves, and even a clumsily-inserted establishing shot would have been preferable to the ridiculous periodic pans to isolated high-rises that are supposedly meant to resemble the Windy City skyline. The makers should also have refrained from plugging in the title tune over a sappy freeze-frame at the close; the effect is maudlin and almost comic. But despite its lapses, and the studio’s misleading portrayal of the sort of picture it is, “Angel Eyes” will probably wind up appealing to audiences–especially female ones–looking for some romance and sentiment in a movie season primarily devoted to explosions, gross-out extravaganzas and high-energy sequels; it could draw the same crowd that responded to the equally peculiar “Frequency” last year. And although it’s not really a good picture, it might have been a lot worse; just remember “Message in a Bottle.”