In Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore, Bill Murray delivers a chapel speech at a well-to-do prep school filled with the spoiled-rotten offspring of the extremely wealthy. Murray offers a word of advice to the 1 percent of students who weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths: "Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down."
In contemporary American cinema, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and other Saturday Night Live alumni are the rich boys, and someone needs to take them down. Sandler and his production company, Happy Madison Productions, are using the mountains of cash earned from his hugely successful comedies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, etc.) to bankroll his buddies' vacant, insipid films, including Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Joe Dirt and the new Rob Schneider vehicle, The Animal. Always moronic, always uninspired, these flicks have all the comedic value of a monkey in a ballet dress juggling beach balls.
In The Animal, Schneider plays a police file clerk who wants desperately to be a real cop. But -- here's the wacky catch! -- he's a real loser instead. He fails miserably at police academy tryouts and pees his pants in shame. If only he could gain a slight edge! If only he could find some magical advantage to overcome adversity and prove to everyone that he has what it takes!
Schneider's edge comes in the form of a car wreck when he swerves his car to miss a seal sitting in the middle of the road and careens off the side of a cliff (ha!). While he's sitting unconscious in the wreckage, a mad scientist comes along, rescues him and pieces his mangled body back together with parts made from animal DNA (ha ha!). When Schneider recovers, he's got the vitality of a pack of badgers, the speed of a cougar and a hairy butt besides (ha ha ha!).
With his new animalistic abilities, Schneider makes his way onto the police force. Suddenly, he's a real standout guy. But how long can he hide his secret? Can he resist his animal urges to make love to goats and devour meat at butcher shops?
We sit in rapt anticipation -- if we sit at all, that is. At the showing I attended, some folks just walked out. Lucky dogs.
To make matters slightly more compelling, The Animal marks the big- screen debut of Colleen Haskell from the first Survivor. She plays Schneider's perfectly PC romantic interest, an apparently independently wealthy environmental activist who spends all her time volunteering at an animal shelter, saving trees from being cut down by developers and shopping for cute sundresses. Haskell's performance proves only that she desperately needs a different agent. She merely giggles through the role, but what more could she have done?
No doubt The Animal will make a ton of money. Deuce Bigalow earned more than $60 million, and Joe Dirt found a way to make a profit amidst horrible reviews. Admittedly, these are the kinds of films I loved as a 12-year-old chowderhead. Jokes about farting, peeing and making love to goats were hilarious to me then, and judging from the theater where I saw the movie there are still plenty of willing 12-year-olds today.
But as I watched, what kept coming to mind was the tired phrase: "the dumbing down of America." I realized that phrase is tired not because it is overused, but because it is overdue. America, at least where summer comedies like this one are concerned, is already dumb, already down.