A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
Like many funnymen who are on an inherently doomed quest for respect, Rob Schneider leads a curiously bifurcated existence. On one hand, he’s a walking punchline, a mascot for the Happy Madison brand, a crude Asian-stereotype enthusiast, and one of the cheesiest catchphrase-slingers in the long, oft-undistinguished history of Saturday Night Live. Schneider has been savagely lampooned by South Park and adroitly zinged by Roger Ebert. At the same time, he is rich, famous, and—thanks to his longstanding, career-sustaining friendship with Adam Sandler—an unlikely leading man, as well as a supporting player in blockbusters like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, 50 First Dates, and Grown Ups.
Yet it’s apparently not enough for Schneider, who has made an unfortunate habit of publicly broadcasting his dismay over not being taken more seriously, even when the product at hand is something as transparently risible as Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. (And I write that as someone who was very much at the high end of the critical spectrum on that one.)
In 2005, Patrick Goldstein wrote that European Gigolo would be overlooked by the Academy Awards because, “Nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered By A Third Rate Comic.” This compelled Schneider, ever the good sport, to take out full-page ads in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter braying that Goldstein himself hadn’t won any awards (which has the disadvantage of not being true), reasoning “Maybe you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for ‘Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.’” In the same piece, Schneider whined defensively:
Patrick, I can honestly say that if I sat with you and your colleagues at a luncheon, afterward, they’d say, “You know, that Rob Schneider is a pretty intelligent guy, I hope we can do that again.” Whereas, if you sat with my colleagues, after lunch, you would just be beaten beyond recognition.
Think about that. Schneider was so deeply, personally wounded by a glib, throwaway wisecrack about Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo that he felt the need to take out full-page ads in two separate trade papers to let people know that he’s “pretty intelligent” and worthy of spending time with. He also felt the need to insist that his friends, whoever they might be, would viciously beat a pop-culture writer beyond recognition for his deplorable, presumably non-pretty-intelligent personality and/or unconscionable wisecrack about Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo’s poor chances of winning an Oscar. I think it goes without saying that a film like European Gigolo should be beyond reproach, and anyone who disparages it deserves to be pummeled viciously by a group that may or may not include blood-crazed hoodlums Adam Sandler and David Spade, both of whom would undoubtedly love to take a pair of brass knuckles to Goldstein’s face repeatedly for his affront to Schneider’s unassailable dignity. Rather than ignore the kind of wisecracks that come with making movies like The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, and that one where he humped a goat, Schneider took money that could have gone to charity and used it to ambiguously threaten Goldstein and engage in schoolyard taunts.
When Roger Ebert, a bona fide Pulitzer Prize winner, leapt to Goldstein’s defense, Schneider called him an “ass.” Fame and fortune aren’t enough for Schneider. As his public hissy fit over Goldstein’s wisecrack betrays, he also wants to be publicly acknowledged as a “pretty intelligent” man people would want to have lunch with repeatedly, on account of his company being so charming, pleasant, and appealing. (Because heaven knows it’s impossible to read that letter and not come away thinking, “What a thoughtful, considerate, restrained, not at all petty or narcissistic man! Truly I have underestimated this artist and thinker!”)
As part of his ongoing, tragicomic bid for respect, Schneider co-wrote and directed 2010’s The Chosen One, a shockingly downbeat and depressing redemption drama that doubles as a narcissistic redemption fantasy for its creator/star. The film traveled a long, arduous, and rocky trip to video stores that entailed a lawsuit, a change in directors from The Vanishing’s George Sluizer to Big Stan’s Rob Schneider, and several years on a shelf before receiving a discreet direct-to-DVD burial.
It’s easy to see why The Chosen One took a perversely long time to go nowhere: It’s easily the most staggeringly odd film in Schneider’s filmography. When a nicely understated dramatic monologue about a parent’s suicide is the only halfway-redeeming facet of a Rob Schneider movie, something has gone intriguingly astray.
The Chosen One casts its co-writer/co-director/star as a hotshot Nissan salesman who bottoms out in a boozy alcoholic haze after his wife leaves him for a yoga instructor. The Chosen One opens with a pair of suicide attempts, the first involving fire and the second a noose, and then proceeds to get a whole lot darker from there, albeit less in a Harold And Maude way than in a “What the fuck was Rob Schneider thinking?” manner.
Schneider wants desperately to kill himself, but the universe has other plans. He drives a fancy new hybrid through his dealership’s front window to express his disapproval of the management style exhibited by his smarmy boss (Peter Riegert), but the bigwigs at Nissan love Schneider, so he gets his job back. In spite of his Eeyore-like vibe and air of world-weary exhaustion, he was apparently a car-selling dynamo before depression overtook him.
Even more remarkably, a trio of Colombian shamans shows up at Schneider’s front door to inform him that he is “The Chosen One,” divinely ordained to help maintain the universe’s equilibrium. The shamans communicate with Schneider through a gorgeous translator (Carolina Gómez) who fulfills a similar function to Manic Pixie Dream Girls: She appears out of the blue to cheer up a dour sad sack and reignite his lost passion for living without wanting anything in return, then disappears conveniently when her mission is achieved.
Gómez is wise, understated, and all-knowing rather than gabby, quirky, and manic—think of her as a Mellow Beatific Dream Girl. Beyond her role as a translator, she is primarily on hand to gaze adoringly at Schneider while delivering New Age platitudes like:
“Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Without forgiveness for ourselves, we cannot love the world.”
“In the web of life, all things are connected”
“Every day we are born again. What we do today matters most.”
“The head must be clear to listen to what the heart has to say.”
“What is important is not what can be seen, but what connects all things.”
Gomez isn’t a human being, nor are the shamans: They’re a condescending representation of indigenous people as spiritually perfect gurus who live to serve others and have no agency of their own beyond teaching a spoiled white man to love himself and embrace his spiritual destiny.
Not long after the shaman’s arrival, Schneider’s mother (Holland Taylor) and his gay asshole Buddhist brother Steve Buscemi arrive to stir up old resentments and relive past traumas, mostly related to the suicide of Buscemi and Schneider’s father. While Buscemi grows less abrasive as the film progresses and he and Schneider find more common ground, he initially comes off as a grating, vaguely homophobic straw-man figure whose preening narcissism, ego, and sour judgment represent the ugly, hypocritical, selfish side of bogus spirituality. (He obnoxiously broadcasts his superiority to Schneider by saying things like, “I am the Buddha seed. You are a car salesman.”)
When Buscemi accuses Schneider of being homophobic, Schneider self-righteously retorts, “I have nothing against gay people, per se, just the angry ones who use their supposed superiority as a club to beat on people they consider their spiritual inferiors.” Boy, dialogue like that just trips off the tongue! It’s like poetry-jazz, man! Impossible-to-deliver poetry-jazz.
I should probably note at this point that The Chosen One is a comedy only in the most generous sense conceivable. The scene where Schneider sits down with his brother and mother would register as almost unbearably grim even before Buscemi indelicately brings up the father’s suicide. Every once in a while the film makes half-assed attempts at comedy, like having the shamans perform a wacky ceremony at the car dealership. But its strange, misguided heart seems to lie with the claustrophobic family drama of the scenes with Schneider’s brother and mother and the horseshit pseudo-spirituality of the shamans.
The film presents Schneider with a choice: Go along with his asshole co-worker and therefore solidify his professional standing by treating a Nissan representative to an orgy of crazed debauchery, or honor the shamans by going to New York and saving a hawk’s nest of vital symbolic significance to their tribe. Should Schneider throw his lot in with figures so divinely inspired they’re practically bathed in a halo of golden light, or try to win Salesman of the Year by banging some skanks with a client and his co-worker?
Schneider’s strange duck of a film offers a bizarre, singularly unpalatable combination of bullshit faux-spirituality, misfiring broad comedy, and stifling family psychodrama. I’ve never seen anything quite like The Chosen One, which is probably good. It’s Rob Schneider’s very own version of The Day The Clown Cried, a bizarrely personal exercise in maudlin self-martyrdom from a deluded clown convinced he has something profound to say about the human condition, and a massive break from the comedy of sexual and personal humiliation that characterize Schneider’s less ambitious vehicles. It’s awful, yet he delivers a surprisingly convincing dramatic performance filled with ineffable pain and real sadness. He’s especially good during his big monologue about his father’s suicide and in a climactic flashback to the discovery of his father’s corpse.
The Chosen One at least has the courage of its misguided convictions. It’s embarrassingly personal and crazy in its overreaching, which cannot be said of a Schneider vehicle like The Benchwarmers. Instead of brokering a peace between Schneider and the gatekeepers of culture, The Chosen One made him seem even more ridiculous and deluded, but I’d much rather watch a film that tries to do something revelatory and important and then fails miserably than a film whose ambitions begin and end with pandering to the lowest common denominator and succeeds spectacularly.
Then again, I was recently nominated in the “Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers” category of the Pulitzers, and am not a pretty intelligent guy and unbeatable lunch companion, so please don’t give my opinion any more credence than it merits.
Just how bad is it? It’s mind-bogglingly awful, but in a way that really needs to be seen to be believed.