By Clint Morris
There were two things I remember most about interviewing Rob Schneider.
First, how damn exhausted he was. The guy had huge bags under his eyes. It looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. And the caffeine didn’t seem to be helping.
The other thing I remember is how self-deprecating and honest he was. He was supposed to be promoting “Deuce Bigalow : European Gigolo” and yet he did anything but – and I don’t mean that in the sense that he talked about past or future films instead of that one, I mean he literally slammed the film. He as good as admitted that he hated it. Obviously the tiredness had Schneider speaking truths more so than usual – but all the same, that’s what he thought of his latest film. And power to him.
I remember we talked a bit about “The Hot Chick”, which I personally believe to be one of Schneider’s best movies. It’s a cute, well-performed and highly entertaining little farce about a – yes, been done a million times before – disheveled bum (Schneider) and pretty high schooler (Rachel McAdams) who swap bodies. Why I think it was so likable, and worked a lot better than say “European Gigolo” (or Schneider’s earlier film “The Animal”) did, is because it had a sweet side – or “heart” as Schneider calls it.
(The main reason Schneider disliked the “Deuce” sequel is he said it lacked the heart of the original film – it was all smut jokes, without the sweet spot.)
And he’s probably right. And what a smart observation that was too. Have a think about which of Adam Sandler’s films have been the most popular – yep, the sweetest one, “The Wedding Singer”, even “Click” did pretty good, and who doesn’t love “Big Daddy”?. The rest of them, especially the jokes-only efforts like “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”, “The Waterboy”, “Mr Deeds” and “Little Nicky”, haven’t had anywhere near the longevity of the Sandler/Drew Barrymore teaming.
In Short: Schneider wishes all his films were a “Wedding Singer”. Or a “Hot Chick”. And if Hollywood’s not prepared to put him in those types of films – which they clearly weren’t/aren’t – he’ll do it himself. And he has.
Though it near killed him – he suffered everything from exhaustion to heat stroke to food poisoning whilst on the set – to do, “Big Stan” is the film Rob Schneider’s been wanting to do since, well, he got off the back of Judge Dredd’s super-cycle. And yes, he had to do it himself. He has the bags under his eyes to prove it.
But here’s the upper-cut to the balls – Not only did Schneider â€˜direct’ the comedy/drama/martial-arts flick, but he now has to essentially single-handedly promote the film too! Freestyle Releasing may be the distributor – but they’ve been sitting on the film for two years now, leaving Schneider to do whatever he can to help the film find it’s audience (he’s even held private screenings in L.A). “Big Stan” has had about five different release dates – and has made none of them. Word is, it may now go direct-to-DVD (something it’s already done in countries like Russia). And what a fuckin’ pity this is… because “Big Stan” might just be the most accomplished film of Schneider’s career. His best flick since “The Hot Chick”.
Now I’m not saying it’s as good as “Hot Chick” or a “Wedding Singer”, it probably isn’t, but it’s obvious that Schneider has poured his heart, soul and raw eggs (to be explained in a minute) into this one. It’s a very commendable effort… and a very different film for the former SNL comic.
“Big Stan” is a complete 360 from anything Schneider’s done with the Happy Madison crowd (which could explain the distributor’s reluctance to release the film). There’s no â€˜star’ cameos to speak of (unless you’re a fan of mixed-martial arts or wrestling), no MTV-style pop soundtrack (in fact, the only track I remember hearing is a song from “The Karate Kid” – appropriately enough – soundtrack called “You’re the Best”), and most of all, a lot less money on the screen than what you’ve seen before in Schneider’s films. It looks almost independent.
Sort-of a cross between “The Longest Yard”, “Stir Crazy” and “Lock Up” (don’t laugh! I seriously think that’s one of Stallone’s better movies, it had â€˜heart’), the flick – shot very quickly over 6 weeks – stars Schneider as a weedy con-man, convinced the law will never catch up him to him, who gets the surprise of his life when he is busted – and sentenced to three years in jail. His sentence is delayed for six months though, so he can right some of the wrongs he’s done.
Terrified of his impending jail-time, and the raping’s that lie ahead, Stan decides to prepare himself better by learning martial arts. With the help of a mysterious martial-arts guru known only as â€˜the Master’ (David Carraddine), Stan transforms himself into a confident fighting-machine. His anus is a no-go zone from here on out.
Stan, now buff and tattooed, enters Prison with new found confidence – and a set of martial-arts skills that immediately impress his fellow inmates (he kicks the bejesus out of about ten of them on his first day). Before too long though, Stan realizes it’s not so much his â€˜martial arts’ skills that are winning him friends, but his knack for bringing people together.
You won’t recognize the man in this – Schneider’s totally transformed himself for the part. He’s very fit – almost muscular! – And from the looks of the way the scenes are cut (i.e. you can see who’s doing the kicking and punching), Schneider’s doing all the martial arts sequences himself (or a majority of them anyway – - Rob, if you’re reading this review, drop us a line, I’d really like to know more about this, did you really train? Just how far did you go man?). I don’t quite know why, but the man obviously has his reasons for not wanting to fake it – and got both bulky and proficient in the art of ass-whopping. It’s actually quite remarkable. Hard to believe it’s the same guy who played the weedy, scared sidekick in Stallone and Van Damme flicks. This guy could carry one of those flicks now (but then, no distributor would want to distribute it would they?).
About half the film is Schneider kicking ass – in surprisingly excellently choreographed martial-arts sequences. These are long, largely unedited action scenes that pit Schneider against whatever-big-guy-they-throw-at-him. In a large studio film, there’d be one or two of these scenes – and they’d be short, playing to cheesy music, and trying very hard to disguise the fact that a stunt man has replaced the actor for the brief scene. Schneider plays them real – like he’s filming a “Kickboxer” sequel or something. It’s very commendable.
Though those action scenes – surprising huh!? – are the highlight of “Big Stan”, there are some good laughs to be had too. All of the supporting cast (including the great Henry Gibson, wrestler Henry Gibson, Kevin Gage, and “House” hottie Jennifer Morrison, playing Stan’s devoted wife) are giving it their all, helping to maximize the laugh every time. But not surprisingly – you can’t avoid them entirely, this is a Schneider film – it’s the â€˜ridiculous’ gags, with Schneider front row center, that get the biggest laugh. Highlights include Stan being served a â€˜Scorpion’ for dinner (“you are what you eat” says the Master), an amusing training scene in which student has his “nipples strengthened”, and probably most memorably, an off-screen gag that suggests Stan’s done something to his “member” so that his fellow inmates won’t be as likely to want to â€˜go there’.
Oh, and yes, it has a sweet side. The message isn’t exactly loud and clear – and that may be the film’s singular downfall – but Schneider’s basically running with the â€˜Why can’t we all just get along?” message through this. It’s cheesy, but ya know, it works. And I don’t doubt that what he does in the film isn’t possible. It does get a little too â€˜deep’ at times, and the film’s tone does shift considerably in it’s third act, but that injection of â€˜something more’ might just be what this one needed.
Schneider recently screened the film for a select crowd in L.A (everyone enjoyed it). I hope such a small gathering are not the only ones that get to see it. “Big Stan” deserves a lot more than a Bingo Hall Gold-Coin Donation Screening.