The Animal

When he was on “Saturday Night Live,” Rob Schneider was never anyone’s favorite performer. He did his parts, served his purpose, and stayed out of the way.

This works to his advantage, because everyone who WAS someone’s favorite performer lets it go to his head. Then, when they do movies, they do nothing but prance around and mug for the camera. (Adam Sandler, I’m looking in your direction, and don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, Mike Myers.) People like Rob Schneider never got that ego boost and therefore still have to rely on old-fashioned concepts like actually being funny.

So Schneider’s first star vehicle, “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” was a fairly amusing affair with a little heart, too. And now his second, “The Animal,” is just as surprisingly funny. Adam Sandler produced both films, but his creative involvement seems to have been limited, thank goodness.

In “The Animal,” Schneider plays Marvin Mange, a grossly incompetent police-station evidence clerk who desperately wants to be a real cop. He’s kind of dumb, very clumsy, and lives alone in a garage.

One night, his car goes over a cliff and he’s nearly killed. A crazy doctor (Michael Caton) rescues him, though, and keeps him alive by transplanting animal organs into him. Upon reviving, Marvin has the strength and keen senses of animals, along with the sexual urges and voracious appetite.

As impossible premises go, this one is relatively funny, and nearly every possible “animal behavior” angle is explored. Marvin rescues a boy like a dolphin, sniffs out drugs like a police dog, feeds a chick like a mother bird, and even “marks his territory” on the house of a girl he likes.

(That girl is Rianna, played by Colleen Haskell of TV’s “Survivor.” She’s kinda sweet and kinda pretty, but also kinda flat and inconsequential.)

His status as a sort of animalistic superhero gets him the chance to be a real police officer, which angers Sgt. Sisk (John C. McGinley), a veiny guy who hates Marvin for reasons unspecified. The other complication has to do with the possibility that Marvin is going out at night and attacking people and animals, unable to control his primal urges.

There’s a fantastic running gag involving Marvin’s friend Miles (Guy Torry), who is black and getting tired of what he terms “reverse racism”: people being too nice to him because they don’t want to offend a black man. This gag actually pays off and ties in to the main plot in the end, suggesting that screenwriter Tom Brady (he co-wrote with Schneider) may have actually learned a thing or two about writing, separating him from the current wave of people who throw jokes into movies just because they thought of them, and not because they have anything to do with anything.

There is, of course, more than one bestiality reference, and those viewing the film will have to see Rob Schneider’s naked butt. But it’s altogether far funnier than it should be, with an ending that is genuinely surprising and enough goofy, unforced laughs to make it worthwhile.

B (; PG-13, some profanity, brief non-sexual nudity, some crude and sexual humor.)